15 December 2004

Under the big top

Now that Scott Peterson's fate has been decided, I wonder where the circus will head to next.  What makes a person say to themselves: "I don't have anything to do today, and even though the Peterson trial has nothing to do with me, I think I'll go down to the courthouse so I can hoot and holler when the verdict is delivered"?

I'll never understand it.

Lots of people are talking about the death penalty lately.  Since I'm never one to avoid getting involved in a discussion, I am only happy to offer my feelings on it.

I don't like it.

If it were up to me (and we should all breathe deeply with thanks that it is not) the death penalty would be history, or put to death, as it were.  I just can't support it, no matter the reason.  I don't care if I have undeniably proof that someone has committed the most heinous crime possible, I can't support having that person executed.

I live in Illinois, and we currently don't have anyone on Death Row.  Ex-governor George Ryan commuted all death sentences to life in prison without parole a few years back, because there was proof in more than  a few cases that innocent people were under death sentences.  The system here was broken and there was no guarantee that anyone could receive due process in capital cases.

(I suppose there could be someone on Death Row in this state as I recall that while there is a moratorium on executions, there is no moratorium to passing a sentence of death.  Just don't hold your breath waiting for anyone to die.  Oh, that was bad.  I am sorry.  Really.)

That's enough for me, the possibility that one person who is innocent could find themselves strapped to a gurney waiting for a mixture of poison to flood into the vital organs.  This is something that has to have a zero tolerance when it comes to mistakes.  You can't kill an innocent person.

As I recall, that is the reason why the person is under a death sentence to begin with, for killing an innocent person.

I have issues with the racial demographics of how the death penalty is given out, and I cringe at the places in this country that consider executing teenagers and those who are mentally retarded, but those are mitigating factors at best.

There's punishment, and then there is PUNISHMENT.  This country tends to not make prison harsh enough.  I realize that there are cost issues involved, but when it comes to murder, I would think that it would be real easy to keep costs low.  It would take a little originality, but it can be done.

Take the case of Timothy McVeigh.  He's been dead for several years now, after being convicted of detonating the bomb that destroyed the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people.  He was only on Death Row for a few years.  He wanted to die, and successfully motivated the government to move towards executing him with lightning speed compared to other executions.

So McVeigh is gone to wherever it is people like him go.  Most of us assume that it is hell, but in reality, none of us knows where he is.  I'll get back to that idea in a moment. 

I've been to the memorial in Oklahoma City.  It's quite beautiful, serene and peaceful, yet while you are there it is impossible to remember the awful reason that it exists.  It's there because Timothy McVeigh was an evil, cowardly person.

If it were up to me (and I will pause again for all to breathe), I'd have spared McVeigh's life.  Instead I would have dug a hole at the end of the memorial, about six feet deep, six feet wide, and six feet long.  Then I would have encased it in plastic.  When I was sure that no one could get into it or damage the foundation, I'd have tossed McVeigh in there.  I'd make sure that he received the minimal amount of sustenence, and I'd let him rot there for the rest of his days.

There's no question that he's better off dead.  I think just about everyone would agree.  That's what prison should be like for those who commit first degree murder, an endless cycle of dark days enclosed in just enough to space to survive, and therefore to be reminded every single day, of the crime that was committed, and of those taken away.  I tend to believe that it would cost less to do this than it would to go through the appeal process and the execution itself.

I am confident that I will never commit a murder, obviously.  Many things give me this confidence, but I have to say that the thought of being put to death for committing such a crime does not deter me from it.  The possibility that I could be left to rot in such a hopeless situation that I believe prison should be definitely motivates me NOT to commit murder.  Given the choice of death or life in prison, I'd choose death.  In a heartbeat.

Why should it be my choice?

I may not make any sense.  It wouldn't be the first time.  This is a deeply personal issue, and I understand that many people can and will have many different feelings about it.  I am not one to say what is right and wrong.

But, above all else, this is why I do not support the death penalty under any reason: no one has any idea where we are sending someone who is executed.

I think about it this way: how many times have you seen or read about a situation where someone has been murdered, and the family and friends are coping with it the best that they can by turning to faith, saying things like "They are with God."  I hear it all the time, and not just restricted to life that has been criminallly taken away.  It applies to almost any death situation.

I was taught that God is the ultimate symbol of benevolance, that no sin is too large to be forgiven by God if indeed the person that has sinned has repented and asked for God's forgiveness through Reconciliation.  There's no litmus test, no level of sin that cannot be considered.  What happens if a condemned criminal expressed their remorse sincerely before their execution?  We think we may be sending them to Hell, but due to the presence of a truly forgiving Lord, could we possibly be sending them to Heaven instead?  How can we possibly know?

This would seem to contradict the entire idea of execution.

Of course, this is a theory that can never be proven nor tested.  If I am wrong, and the death penalty is eliminated, we are delaying sending the condemned to Hell.  But I would argue that if we punish those given life in prison for these crimes properly, they will spend the rest of the lives here on Earth experiencing a type of hell, before they evetually make it to the real thing.

Now think if I am right, and that those guilty of any sin can repent, and therefore even an executed criminal could make it into Heaven upon leaving this Earth.

Wouldn't you want to make sure they experienced just a little bit of hell before the got there?



pattboy92 said...

An excellent entry, Jim.  There's one thing that occurs to me as I read the part about McVeigh:  I wonder if those who are willing to claim a life to begin with -- particularly in the way he did -- are truly capable of being remorseful about it, even if placed at the site and told he'd spend the rest of his life there.  McVeigh never seemed to show the first sign of remorse for all of the day care children he killed to make his point.

It strikes me that we're extending our own values of life upon those who haven't enough of it to keep them from taking others.

But then there's the one other question:  if it's not merciful to put someone to death, why is it MORE merciful to give them just the "minimal amount of sustenence" and let them "rot there" for the rest of their days?  Isn't this also punishment motivated by a sense of vengeance as some believe the death penalty is?

Just a thought.  Thanks for reading.


ber144 said...

Patrick: I'd say that any type of prison sentence for any type of crime is vengeaful.  I don't consider a life sentence with a minimal amount of sustenance more merciful than execution.  I think execution is the easy way out, but then that is only my opinion.  I'm someone who is more inclined to believe that people who commit murder don't value any life, especially their own, and would want to die after being in prison under "my" conditions for a few years.

Thanks for the comments!