The Execution of Two Men: How Do You Feel About the Death Penalty?

The execution of Troy Davis on September 21 for the murder of  police officer Mark McPhail in August of 1989 puts a much needed light on our justice system and our own consciences.

It took me three pregnancies to become pro-life.  It was a gradual change of heart that I had with each new child.  With the death penalty, I logically understood that pro-life meant just that:  all life.

I read Sister Helen Prejean's book "Dead Man Walking:  An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty" and I still wasn't convinced.  Even the movie (which I thought was very good) still didn't get me quite there.

I don't know when it happened, but when I read about Troy Davis' execution I felt a little sick.

Maybe that's the key here:  feeling sick when you hear about an execution or an abortion.  Your innards twist a little and you feel slightly queasy.

Then I read the article in Wednesday's Tribune about the white supremacist who was executed for his involvement in the dragging death of a black man in 1998.  I immediately felt smug and righteous about this.  It was a horrific hate crime.  Lawrence Russell Brewer got an easy death compared to what he did to his victim, James Byrd, Jr.

So my innards twisting and feeling queasy were almost immediately replaced with smug and righteous.  Why?  Death is death.  Execution is execution.  Isn't it?

But I think it has more to do with our feelings about the condemned.  Troy Davis evokes sympathy.  If there ever was a doubt about this man's innocence, he should not have been executed, but the system convicted and executed him and his victim's, (Officer Mark MacPhail) family feel that justice was served.

Lawrence Russell Brewer is hardly sympathetic.  He is an easy target to hate.  He had no last words of remorse.  In Troy Davis' last words, he reiterated his innocence and and asked his family to continue to search for the truth.

It is easy to stand for life when that life is an innocent baby.  It is easy to stand for life when a mistake may have been made in the justice system.  It is much harder to stand for life when that life represents hatred.

Jesus came to change hearts.  On this, He'll have to still work on mine.




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  • I figure that guys like Gacy deserved it, and the folks that ripped the baby out of the mother and blinded the 3 year old (don't hold me to the details) should have gotten it.

    However, given that everyone who is executed is supposedly innocent, and the Burge stuff in Illinois, it probably isn't worth it any more.

    In fact, with Perry running, I'm surprised that the usual media sources aren't sticking him with all the Texas executions, as they did Bush.

    Maybe it is better that someone like Speck become someone's jailhouse beotch. Just make sure they never get out.

    I'm only talking pragmatism here.

  • The only justification for execution of criminals is when the state cannot protect the population against the criminal, i.e., the jails are so poor that there is no practical guarantee that he'll remain behind bars for life. That's just not the case in our day and time and culture. If someone gets sent to jail for life, he can remain there with assured certainty.

    I heard Sr. Prejean when she came to my parish, and she was pretty convincing. For those who insist on supporting the death penalty, the only real motive is revenge. Why? 1. Because the prisoner can be put behind bars for life, and, therefore, society is protected. 2. It ends up costing more than twice as much to execute a criminal than to put him away for life (I was surprised, but she explained it, and it made sense in light of all the appeals allowed through a court-appointed and paid for attorney). 3. The courts have executed a few men who have been proven guilty after they had already been executed. One is too many. We cannot trust the courts to that degree. The safest thing is to put them away for life without possibility of parole.

    Okay, I'm steppin' off my soapbox now. :)

  • In reply to Augustin58:

    Ah Augustin58! Thank you for your usual clarity! Do you need help getting down? ;-)

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