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Bert Montgomery: A student's murder, a teacher's reflection


Bert Montgomery



Reid''s note grabbed my immediate attention: "Jury selection begins today in the capital murder trial of Bobby Batiste. Batiste stands accused of murdering Andreas Galanis. Both young men were students at Mississippi State. Andreas Galanis was a friend of mine." 


Reid (not his real name - he asked to remain anonymous) teaches at MSU. He describes his politics as "progressive/liberal/thoughtful" and will freely tell you his opinions if you should ask. 


I know Reid well. I know him well enough to assume he''s probably opposed to the death penalty. 


When I saw his note I hurt first and foremost for my grieving friend and the family of the victim, but I also couldn''t help but wonder if this experience might challenge and change how he thinks about capital punishment. 


Reid never had Andreas as a student in class, but he got to know Andreas by striking up conversations with him on campus. Andreas, he said, was older than most students, very friendly, and had a great sense of humor. Frequently throughout the week, Reid and Andreas would cross each others'' path on campus, chat a little and joke around. Over time, Reid even learned about Andreas'' family and friends. 


But then Andreas was murdered by his own housemate. 


Reid recalls, "The day he was bludgeoned to death by Bobby Batiste was the day we had snow/frozen rain/sleet on the Friday before Spring Break. It was also the day President Fogelsong ''declared victory'' and resigned as MSU''s president. Fogelsong''s resignation was the big news of the day. ... I did not hear about the murder until Monday of Spring Break. A colleague told me a student had been murdered. (At first), I did not realize it was my friend Andreas." 


I did not know of Reid''s connection until his note on the day of jury selection. Throughout this past week, Reid has closely followed the trial of Batiste. "I have attended much of the trial and have been there for most of the testimony. I needed to be there because I want to understand what happened."  


Reid met Andreas'' family and friends and sat with them in court. 


Reid was not at the courthouse when the verdict of "guilty of capital murder" was read. On Saturday, though, he was present most of the day to hear the testimonies and cross examinations of the nine defense witnesses and three prosecution witnesses. 


"I had to leave just before the jury received their instructions," he said. I heard about the death penalty decision from Matt, Andreas'' boyhood friend who was here for the trial. He called my cell phone with the news." 


I broached the subject of the death penalty, and how having a personal connection with one who was murdered may change things. 


Reid said he used to think he was squarely opposed to it - but "now I think I had not really thought much about it. I am presently wrestling with many conflicting emotions and rational thoughts. ... used to think I opposed it - now, not so sure." 


Life has an unpleasant way of complicating things after we think we have figured stuff out. Personal experience changes everything.  


Personally, I''ve been morally opposed to the death penalty since a teenager. I never could reconcile it with my religious beliefs. However, I must admit I''ve never known anyone who was murdered, and I''ve often wondered such an experience would challenge or even change my opinion. 


My friend, Reid, is a man of deep spiritual and moral convictions, and he is active in his church congregation. But with this personal encounter, the pain he feels and the pain he feels for the family of his murdered friend now weigh in very heavily on an issue he''s only dealt with in abstract terms; now the abstract has become very real. 


Regardless of where he ends up on the issue of capital punishment, I pray that Reid''s memories of his young friend remain fresh and alive for a long, long time. 



Bert Montgomery is an author, MSU religion/sociology instructor, and pastor and lives in Starkville. His e-mail address is [email protected]


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Reader Comments

Article Comment Glennda commented at 11/2/2009 11:24:00 AM:

I feel for Reid as well as the family of Andreas. I pray that God will be with them all and help them heal. I pray that his mother will be able to find peace and love again.

However, I do feel that the punishment should fit the crime, and in this case, I feel it does. Although the death penalty does have many opponents, there has to be a ultimate punishment for an ultimate crime.


Article Comment KJ commented at 11/2/2009 12:44:00 PM:

I'm all for justice and I'm not morally opposed to a death penalty. However, the two are incompatible in our current justice system. One doesn't have to look to far in Northeast Mississippi to find overturned convictions; convictions obtained with dubious theories proffered by witnesses brought by the prosecuting DA. Local incidents, echoing other experiences around the country in which capital convictions and death sentences are overturned by exonerating evidence, should raise far more serious alarms than they seem to about whether or not we are capable of meeting our obligations as a society to produce justice untainted by personal prejudices and professional pressures. I don't believe we currently do a good job of either.

We regularly charge under-age children as adults; we incarcerate people for ridiculous terms for victimless crimes; and we create criminals by inventing enforcement opportunities in the pursuit of profit.

I hope that the family of Mr. Galanis can find peace with this verdict and sentence. And I hope that justice has been served in this case. It would not surprise me to discover, some years hence, that this conviction and death sentence has done neither.


Article Comment Glenn Hinson commented at 11/3/2009 9:00:00 AM:

We put too many innocent people to death in our flawed system. Besides, as Will Campbell once said, "Capital punishment is tacky."


Article Comment tg commented at 11/3/2009 4:37:00 PM:

Taking someones life is whats tacky.


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