Death Penalty Dilemma Again

By Jeffrey Page

I carry with me a special loathing for the monsters in our midst who take out their frustration and rage by beating children, or killing them.

Recently I recalled several such stories I wrote in my years at The Record in Bergen County. Such as the young pregnant woman who felt funny at her high school prom, went to the ladies room, delivered a baby, strangled her, ate a salad and went back to the dance. Note: There is no exaggeration in that description. And such as the man who beat his son to death because the little boy pressed the wrong buttons on Dad’s TV remote.

What brought this recollection in these days leading to Christmas, was a story in the Times Herald-Record that demonstrated yet again what some people are capable of doing to children. The story centered on a boy named Mason Decosmo, or to be precise, the late Mason Decosmo.

Mason was about 2 years old. He was murdered, basically beaten to death.

The TH-R story was about testimony offered by the Ulster County medical examiner on the condition of Mason’s body. The story was accompanied by a head-and-shoulders picture of Mason. That photo shows a sweet little boy with reddish hair and a toothy smile. He looks like a happy kid though I noticed he had bags under his eyes, something you don’t expect to see in a toddler. There’s no mistaking him for anything but a child, yet those bags, and a slight crease in his cheek, give him the momentary look of a little old man.

Two years old. Walking around, in all likelihood. Understanding some words and maybe repeating some to his mother. Toilet trained? Maybe, maybe not. Was he in the early stages of the Terrible Twos? Did he love to watch TV? What was his favorite toy? His favorite storybook? We don’t know.

What we do know is that there’s someone in this world who had an unquenchable hatred for this little boy. For, as reported by the Times Herald-Record, this is what the medical examiner, Dennis Chute, found when he examined Mason’s body:

Mason was hit so hard that he suffered liver damage. Mason’s pancreas was torn into two pieces. Mason had internal bleeding. Mason had blood on the brain. Mason had a broken rib. Mason had a damaged lip. Mason had 60 bruises. Mason had torn skin on his anus. Mason, two years old, had bruises on his penis. Mason had bruises on his scrotum.

On trial is Kaitlin Wolfert, Mason’s mother, charged with negligence and abuse. She said she was unaware of how badly her son had been hurt and therefore didn’t take him to the hospital. Later, there will be a separate trial for Kenneth Stahli – Wolfert’s boyfriend – who is charged with murder.

When the killer, whoever he or she is, finally is found, my shaky opposition to capital punishment will again be tested. I grew up opposing it and was happy when it was outlawed in New York. After all, how certain can we be of a capital defendant’s guilt? What if we execute someone who’s innocent? These are absolutely legitimate questions, and I wish I had rational answers.

In the meantime, what do we do with the beast who murders a little boy like Mason Decosmo? Should he or she be allowed to live in our society? If capital punishment is cruel and inhumane, what then do we do with the people who kill little kids like Mason?

For now, let’s remember this little boy. May Mason and his suffering never be forgotten.

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7 Responses to “Death Penalty Dilemma Again”

  1. Carole Howard Says:

    This story, and the emotions it evokes, gives the lie to the comment I just submitted to Gretchen’s piece. (I said, in effect, “everything’s more complicated than we think.”) In this case, it doesn’t seem that things can be very complicated. In this case, it feels very black and white. It feels … evil. Poor Mason.

  2. Marshall Rubin Says:

    The main reason I oppose the death penalty is because while one presumably guilty murderer is eliminated, the root causes that seem to compel some to kill others is not eliminated.

    Murderers should be incarcerated, rather than executed, not out of some form of compassion for the perpetrator, but for another reason.

    Once a person is convicted of murder he/she, upon incarceration loses almost all forms of civil liberties. That individual can be ripe for scientific and psychological study in order to ultimately determine what occurs in our environment that induces some to kill.

    In effect, a murder convict becomes an experimental guinea pig for gathering information that could eliminate those societal causes that induce murders–basically a laboratory animal, instead of someone who is uselessly languishing in prison. On the other hand, we learn nothing by executing murderers.

    Eliminate those causes in society, and we greatly reduce the incidents of murder. Forget compassion. Get to the ROOT of the problem and go from there.

  3. esme Says:

    I, like you, had the same feelings on the death penalty when I was much younger and not fully aware of all the atrocities in this world. Then came the cases where men/women had been been falsely convicted and new evidence was found exonerating them. But still, in reading this piece, I am so torn as to what is the answer, what is the correct punishment to deliver to people who would do this to a small, innocent child.

    How many more little Masons are out there in this cruel world of ours being abused as we speak right now. How many little bruised bodies are out there in this world and we do not have a clue.

    How do we deal with people who are having multiple children but do not have the slightest idea of the precious gift they have and think of them as only ‘things’ and ‘inconveniences’ to their lives. Yes, they are poor, illiterate, probably on drugs, alcohol, frustrated, mentally ill and beat small animals. But a child, tortured and killed is beyond my comprehension.

    Was he ever hugged and kissed, did anyone never see the look in his eyes to see there was no sparkle. Where was anyone to say something, anything to suggest something was wrong. Right now a child is crying, right now a man or a woman is really annoyed and that child is another Mason…who will be punched, kicked until he learns not to whimper again or is in so much pain he cannot move. He/she will not be fed or cleaned, will not play and will be ignored all day, until the cycle is repeated again.

    We speak of the battered woman. What about the battered child who cannot seek help at the age of 2. The only time we hear of these cases in the newspaper is when it is too late and a child like Mason is dead.

    Who decides the justice to be given to people like this when we have become so civilized, but our rage is so strong. Mason, in death has been given sanctuary, he cannot be abused anymore. But what of the remainder of the lives of his abusers …. what would Mason want.

  4. Jeffrey Page Says:

    To Carole: Oh, its an example of evil, no question. Every time I see one of these stories, I feel a rage build up that is very difficult to describe; it is that intense. And while I have done no research, it seems like these stories are almost becoming commonplace. There can be no excuse for what Mason’s killer did, but I’m already wondering how the defense team will try to make the court feel sorry for certain unhappinesses (is there such a word?) in the criminal’s life.

    To Marshall: You’re right; we learn nothing from a dead murderer. I guess there are degrees of murder (aside from legal degrees) and some killers might prove useful to the state. Killing to stay warm or to get food is one thing. A crime of passion is one thing. Killing in self-defense is one thing. Then there is Mason, and what his killer did to him. The kid was 2 years old for God’s sake. Re-read what his killer did to him and tell me what we might learn from said killer. Sorry, but sometimes I allow myself the indulgence of emotional reaction. I don’ think there is much to learn from the person who removed Mason from our midst. I don’t like the position killers of Mason(s) put me in, but they do and I react.

    To Esme: The fact is that I usually come down against imposition of the death penalty. And then, every so often, along comes the girl at the prom in New Jersey. Or along comes Timothy McVeigh. Or along comes the person who killed Mason in the animalistic way he was killed. As you say, “Mason, in death has been given sanctuary.” A 2 year old kid who doesn’t speak much yet is abused and can’t get relief unless he dies. How are decent people, or every halfway decent people supposed to function in a world of Mason-killers?

    Thanks to all who wrote.


  5. Marshall Rubin Says:

    Remember, I’m not advocating against the death penalty purely out of compassion for the perpetrator
    Admittedly my approach is coldly clinical and scientific. But my ultimate goal is to determine the roots that lead to one’s brutally taking another’s life, with the belief that if the roots of cold-blooded murder were to be largely eliminated, the result would lead to a vast reduction of the sort of horrendous crime you refer to in your article.
    Then, you’d have no concerns about the death penalty, because it would be rendered obsolete.

  6. Jayme Says:

    It’s such an amazingly slippery slope, when it comes to capital punishment. There’s so many factors involved, so many emotions. It is something that absolutely epitomizes the fact that people in society are so vastly different, it’s not black and white.

    I can openly admit that I don’t know whether or not I support the death penalty. The thought of people having the power to condemn someone to death, absolutely terrifies me. But the thought that babies such as Mason can (and are) be murdered by the hands of people who are meant to care for them (and due to either their parents negligence, or even government agencies negligence – Which is high lighted in the Mason DeCosmo case), this thought breaks my heart.

    Sometimes – When I read these cases of violated children. Children who have been murdered, I feel as though I will bleed to death from the pain of it, that’s how hurt I feel. People tell me to stop reading them – It just upsets me, but that hurt I am feeling is nothing compared to how scared, alone and betrayed these babies must have felt when they were looking at these people just wanting them to love them back.

    I want there to be harsh, definite laws that are just in regards to people who abuse, neglect or murder children (By act or omission) – I would love to have the heavens open up and fire and brimstone by rained upon them. They be burned at the stake like witches.

    I think it’s easy to execute someone. I think these people should be studied. I think they should be watched daily, I think we should be talking to them and find out what is so broken inside of them, that they would do that to another human being, especially a child.

    Whether it’s the death penalty or not. There is one thing for sure… That governments and law makers have to assess what laws are in place now and the sentencing and punishment that goes with them and make amendments and make a change, because this is not justice for those children.

  7. MaryAnn Says:

    Katlin Wolfert has NOT been charged in criminal court. She has ONLY been charged in family court. I started a petition calling for her arrest. I DO believe in the death penalty for people who beat 2 year olds to the point of death. Mason AND his 8 month old brother were beat and sexually abused (per the autopsy and family court testimony)

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