Next month, Mark David Chapman, the murderer of John Lennon, goes before New York State’s parole board. Sentenced to a 20 years-to-life sentence for second degree murder in 1981, he first came up for parole in 2000. Now, in 2010, he is up for parole for the sixth time, having served 29 years in Attica State.
Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono opposes parole for Chapman, as she has each of the previous times he has come up before the parole board. She believes that Chapman poses a danger to herself and to Sean Lennon, and on those grounds he should remain behind bars.
I think Chapman should be released. He has served his time. He has been, by all reports, a model prisoner. He has, not to put too fine a point on it, gotten his fecal matter together. He was a very disturbed young man in his mid-twenties. Now, he is in his mid-fifties and he has done what society has asked of him.
I am not without ambivalence, however. My uneasiness comes not from a fear of what Chapman might do — I strongly doubt that Chapman, at fifty-five, is a candidate for recidivism; and Yoko Ono’s paranoia notwithstanding, she has more to fear from pigeons crapping on her head as she walks in Central Park than she has to fear from Chapman — but from what Beatles fans might do. If New York State has a compelling interest in keeping Chapman behind bars, it is in ensuring his safety from Beatledom’s lunatic fringe. When Chapman came up for parole in 2004, websites the world over posted messages promising Chapman’s death were he released.
I realize that Chapman is not likely to be released next month; sometimes, the identity of the murder victim matters more than the record. Were it Dave Clark of the Dave Clark Five that Chapman had gunned down outside the Dakota Building on December 8, 1980, Chapman’s parole request would have been granted years ago. Instead, Chapman martyred St. John of Lennon, and the emotional freight of that act (to say nothing of the political backlash New York’s parole board would feel if they released him) outweighs the rehabilitation and clear progress Chapman has made behind bars and the debt he has paid to society. Judging Chapman on the basis of who Lennon was and what he might have done post-1980, as some have, strikes me as an unfair and frankly impossible-to-meet standard.
Some Beatles fans refuse to speak Chapman’s name, treating him as the equivalent of Lord Voldemort — “He who shall not be named.” Yoko Ono has said that, while she wants December 8th to be a universal day of forgiveness, she has not yet begun to forgive Chapman — and may be incapable of it. Set aside the emotion. Look at John Lennon not as St. John of Lennon but as an ordinary man. I believe that Chapman, if released and if fanatic Beatledom didn’t demonize and torment him, would fade back into the obscurity from whence he came and some of the emotional wounds of Lennon’s murder would heal instead of being torn open again each biennium as Chapman comes up for parole once more.
I hold unpopular opinions and, within Beatledom, this is a truly unpopular view. Yet, in spite of the controversy, I am convinced that it is the right view; I would rather be honest and disliked than false in my beliefs and loved as a result. I don’t expect anyone to agree with this. In my view, Mark David Chapman should be granted his release from prison. It’s the right thing to do, the humane thing to do.