Manny, the recipient of a Purple Heart for his service in Vietnam, was a paranoid schizophrenic who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. He had been tried and convicted for the murder of an elderly woman who had died of a heart attack after a break-in and beating.
When Bill realized that his brother could possibly be involved in the woman’s death, he contacted the police and helped them arrest his brother. In return, the police promised Bill that Manny would receive the psychological help that he needed and that they would help see that Manny would not receive the death penalty. Bill felt certain that when confronted with the reality of Manny’s mental illness, the justice system would hand down a fair sentence but avoid death. He was wrong.
The Babbitt family was too poor to afford good counsel. Manny’s first lawyer took their money and then dropped the case. The second, a court-appointed attorney, refused to allow blacks on the jury, drank heavily during the trial and was later disbarred and sued for racism.
Today Bill speaks out regularly against the death penalty. He is often alongside David Kaczynski, who led federal investigators to his brother, Ted Kaczynski, known as the Unabomber, in 1996. Kaczynski has repeatedly said that if it were not for his family’s financial ability to hire competent counsel, his brother, like Manny Babbitt, most likely would have received the death penalty. Instead, Ted Kaczynski received life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“For the rest of my life I have to live with the fact that I turned my mentally ill brother in and that led to his death. I wish we had been able to get Manny the help he needed. I wish that as a society we would devote our resources to treating people like Manny instead of imposing the death penalty and creating more funerals, more grief, more tears.”