Killer

Jessie Rankins was released from prison earlier this month. Although he was in prison for stealing a dog, that was not the reason his story made the front page of the Chicago Tribune last week. In 1994, Rankins and his friend, Tykeece Johnson, dropped five-year-old Eric Morse from a 14th floor window. Rankins was sent to prison and released in 2004. In 2006 went back for stealing the dog.

After fifteen years, Rankins is still unable to put his crime behind him, describing himself as “an inhuman beast that had no feeling whatsoever.” On his chest, just above his heart, is a tattoo of a grave stone with the name of his victim engraved on it.

Eric Morse's brother won't forget either. Derrick Lemon, himself on trial for murdering his aunt's boyfriend, was running down the stairs in the vain hope of catching his bother when Eric was tossed from the window. Lemon would do anything to get his brother back.

If you put yourself in either men's shoes—Rankins' or Lemon's—it is difficult to find an answer. Perhaps Rankins relates to the words of Shelley's Frankenstein who, when transfixed with guilt for what his beast had accomplished, “bore a hell within me, which nothing could extinguish.” Perhaps Lemon would join Frankenstein in his anger towards the beast, when he says “Oh that I could, with the extinction of your miserable existence, restore those victims whom you have so diabolically murdered!”

The truth is, I don't think there is anything we can do to make it better. It is insurmountable to social services, therapy or even to a good job and loving wife. Rankins and Lemon are bound to become a drain on welfare and to feature regularly in the city papers like some grotesque circus act. As a society, we can try to avoid its repetition, but cannot take it back. Frankenstein's monster asks, “Polluted by crimes, and torn by the bitterest remorse, where can I find rest but in death?”

What we need is a death. Not the death of a beast, burdened with guilt, but the death of a sinless one. Untarnished, Jesus was nailed to the cross—a criminal's death—and our evil was laid upon Him. He wears that tattoo of Rankin's above the heart, for he died for that too. He wears all our tattoos on his chest and becomes our sin-bearer, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

Marx, Gary. "Boys Were Raised Behind Bars." Chicago Tribune 24 Mar. 2009: 9-9.

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein, or, The modern prometheus. Letchworth: J.M.Dent and Sons Ltd., 1963.

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