Murderer of Gifted Child Executed

Elissa Self-Braun was an 11 year-old gifted student who attended a school for the gifted in St. Louis, Missouri. Elissa was raped and murdered after she was kidnapped while walking to her bus.

This crime happened in 1991 and this week, 20 years later, her killer Martin Link was put to death by lethal injection. Martin Link had also raped other girls and had previously tried to abduct an eight-year-old.

However, the controversy over capital punishment raged on weeks before Link’s execution. Religious leaders asked for clemency as did those who took issue with the fact Link himself was horrifically abused as a child.

The prosecution had DNA evidence which ensured they had the right man. The police found Vaseline in Link’s car he had supposedly used in the rape. Link’s prints were on the lid and there were tiny flecks of blood inside–that blood proved to be a match to Elissa. Also, her body was found in a river Link was very familiar with and had frequented.

The area in which the death penalty debate got tricky was because some people felt sorry for Link. According to Jeff Stack, who writes for the Columbia Daily Tribune, Link’s mother’s boyfriend sexually abused Link when he was a small child. Jeff Stack wrote in a recent article, “(The boyfriend) physically abused the boy, including chaining him to a doghouse and forcing him to eat dog food. When he was about 7, his mother broke both his thumbs as he tried to fend off her blows. When she thought he was acting up, she frequently locked him in a closet.

“An older neighbor (sexually abused) Link daily for several years, beginning when the boy was about 5. When he was 11, Link’s mother grabbed her son’s genitals and threatened to tear them off if he did not do as he was told. In such a torturous upbringing, it is little wonder the youth turned to substances for escape, beginning at age 14 to experiment with marijuana, speed, sniffing glue and gasoline. He used alcohol and drugs heavily until he was 19.”

Martin Luther King once said, “Hate begets hate and violence begets violence”. While I agree Link’s upbringing is a tragedy in itself, it does not remotely excuse his behavior. The majority of children who are horrifically abused DO NOT go on to rape and murder children. What happened to Link may help explain his despicable behavior but it certainly does not excuse it.

Twenty years ago a young gifted child was taken from her family and from society. Who would Elissa had been if she had not been murdered? Who would Martin Link had been had he not been abused? We’ll never know but we do know Martin Link killed Elissa Self-Braun and this week Martin Link was put to death for that crime.

As a final thought I would like to say a heartfelt thank you to Missouri detectives Bill Roach and Mike Flaherty for their diligent police work in solving this crime. To read more of their incredible story click below:

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2 Responses to Murderer of Gifted Child Executed

  1. Sarah McUmber-House says:

    There is an important difference between offering excuses for someone’s behavior, and examining the reasons for that behavior.

    I no longer support the death penalty, personally, because it has too often been carried out on innocent people, wrongfully convicted.

    It seems clear that there is no doubt whatsoever that the man did this crime, and that he should never be set loose in the world again. Even those who ‘feel sorry’ for him, are not likely arguing that he was not guilty, or that he should not be punished to the full extent of the law. Understanding why someone does something horrible, (in this, and many other cases, because they were severely mistreated themselves, as children), is extremely important. It in no way absolves the man of his guilt, but gives us insight into how to prevent such horrors in the future, and a reason to genuinely pity the boy who could not overcome such mistreatment, and grew up to be such a horribly emotionally disfigured man. No excuse for his behavior. Just recognition of the reasons behind it.

    It is very important that we come to understand those reasons, and put serious effort into addressing the identified problems with respect to young children now being abused, so that they may not be propelled down such a destructive path.

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