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What’s the fascination in death, horror?

Call me a wimp, if you will, but I’ve never been a fan of horror films. The idea of enjoying being frightened just never seemed much fun.

Nor does seeing people die seem like my idea of a good time.

Blood, death and gore are the stuff most teenage boys seem programmed to enjoy.

Watching something that you know to be fake on screen is one thing, but when you see death — real, last-breath, no more chances death — happen before your eyes, something changes, I suppose.

Still, there’s something morbidly fascinating to many of us about death. It’s what makes motorists rubberneck at highway accident scenes.

It’s what caused crowds to gather at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and it’s what made public hangings a spectacle in the frontier days of the American West.

That fascination continues to this day, though perhaps the violence routinely seen in television programming, films and video games has dulled it a bit.

In less than three days’ time, the State of Mississippi plans to execute a convicted killer named Willie Jerome Manning.

The 45-year-old faces four death sentences, including one for killing Natchez native and Mississippi State University student Jon Steckler.

I never met Steckler, but if his large Natchez family is any indication, he was a great person. All the Stecklers I’ve met in Natchez have been top-class people.

Jon was only one of the four people for whom Manning was convicted of killing.

If anyone deserves death, it would seem, Manning does.

His victims were not people he knew, but apparently random victims he robbed and killed.

Barring some last-minute reprieve, the State of Mississippi will execute Manning at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

A handful of witnesses will be present to witness his death.

Once upon a time, the idea of being one of those witnesses seemed interesting.

Just like those rubberneckers at car wrecks on the Mississippi River Bridge, something is appealing about seeing exactly what’s happening, being in some ways a witness to history.

Through the years, however, my thoughts have changed.

I’ve seen more than a handful of people die before my eyes while I was reporting and photographing car wrecks, shootings and violent news events.

Those deaths, however, not unlike witnessing an execution, were anonymous. Witnessing death is worse when it’s someone you know.

When Willie Jerome Manning is put to death, I don’t want to see it, preferring to have others handle such unpleasant things for me. That’s the American way, isn’t it?

Perhaps that easy avoidance is at the root of the conflict America has with the death penalty.

The distance put between the execution act and us is one part of the problem.

The other is the massive amount of time between the original crime conviction and the execution date. Time dulls the heinousness of the crime.

One has to wonder if death penalty supporters and critics alike might soften their positions if all executions were made much more public and were preceded by a graphic reminder of the details of the crimes committed.


Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.