Just a few years ago, outgoing Illinois Governor George Ryan commuted the sentences of 156 death row inmates in light of the fact 13 death row inmates were found innocent of the crime they had been convicted of and condemned to death for. If the Illinois case is representative of death penalty cases in other states, we can conclude roughly 260 of the total 3,254 currently awaiting execution will be murdered by the people of their respective states. Can we make this assertion for sure? Of course not, but it raises a question of reasonable doubt as to the continued enforcement of the death penalty in 34 of the 50 states.
The United States was the very last country in western civilization to abolish slavery, and it remains the only country in the same demographic group still employing the death penalty as an instrument of justice. Ironically, our persistence for capital punishment puts us among a group of rogue countries we condemn for human rights violations including Iran and North Korea which still use capital punishment as a deterrent against crime. Sadly, the statistics which suggest the death penalty is an effective deterrent are non-existent.
When it comes to the death penalty, the zeal for Old Testament, “eye for an eye,” retribution is most common among people who call themselves Christians, but who apparently have not bothered to consult the New Testament and the parable of Jesus telling the Pharisees quoting the Laws of Moses and wanting to stone the adulteress woman, “Let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone.”(John 8:7) That the Gospel of John is the very foundation Trinitarian doctrine is erected upon, and the fact that so many who claim this belief flatly deny the teachings of Jesus in support of capital punishment raises questions as to the authenticity of the belief.
In contrast, one might expect so-called conservative Christians, especially considering the persecution the belief has been subject to over the past 2,000 years, would be the loudest in calling for an end to the death penalty in America. After all, this is the same group so adamantly against abortion, as taking the life of a human being, that they themselves murder or at least sanction the murder of doctors and clinical technicians who perform them. Don’t get me wrong, this writer is not trying to imply that anti-abortion or death penalty proponents are right or wrong in their convictions, only that notions of when murder is acceptable, and when it is not, present a status of paradoxical asymmetry.
It should be said here too, that most people who are against continuance of the death penalty are not against harsh punishment of those who commit capital crimes. Instead, many such opponents to capital punishment are concerned with the fallibility of the American justice system which seems much more biased towards emotions and sentiment than any objective assessment of guilt based on the facts of the case.
Former prosecuting attorney turned TV commentator Nancy Grace is notorious for whipping up sentiment among her viewers with innuendo, speculation and conjecture, and is a good example of an advocate for the miscarriage of justice. What ever school gave her a law degree should be discredited as Nancy Grace herself was by the Georgia Supreme court on not one but two occasions. Do you think this might have had something to do with why Nancy is no longer prosecuting cases? Ironically she doesn’t seem to be the exception of the rule these days, but instead perhaps the leading indicator of a trend.
The factor of reasonable doubt as to the guilt of persons committed to death by Jurists Prudence, as supported by evidence given at the outset of this article, remains the most compelling argument against capital punishment. No American should want or be willing to accept complicity in the murder of a fellow citizen who is innocent of the crime they have been convicted of, because that makes every American equally guilty of a capital offense too.
Therefore, until such time the element of absolute certainty can be assured within the American judicial process, the right of every citizen to prove their innocence should not be denied by their premature lethal extermination. Even one person being wrongly put to death is one too many, and the element of human fallibility being so pervasive, it is not likely we can ever achieve the degree of certainty demanded to invoke upon any other soul the life and death judgement reserved for the perfect and almighty God, however despicable the individual may be. For there, be it not for the grace of God, go we all.