When journalist Nancy Mullane became the first reporter in a decade permitted inside California’s death row to interview prisoners, one inmate’s story disturbed her more than others.
Mullane answered questions in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” post Monday about her June 2012 interviews at California’s San Quentin State Prison, where she was struck by how quiet the cell block was and how most of the prisoners had accepted their fates.
One Reddit user asked Mullane which interview disturbed her most. This was the intriguing answer she gave.
Helzer and his brother, former stock broker Glenn Taylor Helzer, were sentenced to death in 2005 for killing five people as part of an utterly bizarre murder-extortion plot. Justin Helzer finally killed himself in April 2013, and Mullane was the last person to interview him before he did.
Unlike every other prisoner she interviewed, Helzer actually admitted his guilt to Mullane. However, he said the murders felt like something that happened in another life.
“I apologized, it was erroneous, it was so misdirected,” Helzer told Mullane in her interview with him, available on Mullane’s website Life Of The Law. “I’m so sorry. It’s like a past life. I’m so not that person anymore. So I don’t have a problem admitting what I did.”
Helzer was tired of death row when he made the suicide attempt that left him totally blind and partially paralysed, he told Mullane. He claimed he had severe medical problems but was only permitted to see the doctor every two to three months, because the inmates had to follow a rotating schedule. Instead, he said he saw nurses who refused to bring him to a doctor unless he was visibly sick.
“The conditions on death row are such that it can lead one to attempt to commit suicide. They’re not good here,” Helzer said.
He stated his opposition to the death penalty, which he considered unnecessary because it didn’t deter crime and inefficient because taxpayers’ dollars are spent to keep inmates alive on death row for many years.
“When people do commit crimes they are not thinking, ‘Oh my gosh I might get the death penalty, I better not do this,'” Helzer said. “They’re in the moment, they want what they want. They are shortsighted. They don’t foresee the consequences of their actions because they’re impulsive.” Those few who do stop and think about the legal ramifications often think they are smart enough to not get caught, Helzer insisted.
He may have influenced Mullane’s advice to Reddit users.
Although Mullane seemed to show some sympathy toward Helzer when she spoke with him on death row, that was not the case for some Reddit users.
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