Show mercy and turn the other cheek
Here We Go Again
I am not voting for George W. Bush. The main reason for this is his record down in Texas for killing folks. In his years as governor of Texas, the number of death row prisoners executed has increased almost logarithmically.
I truly hold Mr. Bush personally accountable for those deaths because he could have called the prison and commuted those sentences. He had direct control over those murders, and he chose not to use it. If a man watches another man kill someone and does nothing to stop it, he is called an accessory. But in our government, such a man is called a leader.
I have a number of objections to the death penalty, both moral and legal. My moral objection is simple — I am against murder, in any form, by anyone. Just because they are the government of the United States does not mean that murder is okay. Just because he is a murderer or rapist does not mean that murder is okay. There is an ancient saying every parent says to every child who thinks the correct thing to do when hit by a sibling is to hit that sibling back, and that is "two wrongs don't make a right." Death penalty supporters could use a dose of that advice.
For those who want to go to the Bible to argue the point, it is true that the Old Testament distinctly supports the idea of killing murderers. But then Jesus came along and said a lot of things that weren't in the Old Testament, like forgive one another, turn the other cheek and love your enemies. I cannot understand how any Christian person could say they espoused Jesus' teachings and then ignore them so completely as to support the death penalty.
He didn't come to tell us to love the people that were easy to love but to tell us to love the ones that are hard to care about.
My legal worry stems from the permanence of death. If you kill someone and later realize they didn't do it, it is hard to take death back. The state of Illinois has removed more people from death row for retrials or acquittals than it has killed: 13 people have been taken off the row, 12 have been killed. If more people on death row didn't do it than did, how many of the people who have been killed really did it? And how will we ever know?
I spent last summer in Chicago at a journalism course at Northwestern University. I heard a journalism professor give a lecture there that I will remember for the rest of my life. He had made a sort of hobby of investigating death row cases that were referred to him to determine if there was enough evidence for the convictions and if there was more information to be dug up.
He told us the story of four men who had been arrested 20 years ago for murder and found guilty. The only witness was a woman who had been with them that night. The police walked this woman around the crime scene, near the blood pools, and asked her over and over what she had seen the men do, suggesting ideas all the way. Finally she broke down and began telling them what they wanted to hear.
Those four men were convicted, and two were sentenced to death. 18 years later, this professor came on the scene and began to understand what a terrible miscarriage of justice had occurred. He worked long and hard to correct it, and after 18 years on death row, the two men were released.
I met one of these men, and I don't think I will ever forget listening to him speak. He told us about spending 18 years 200 feet from the room he thought he would die in, living with the knowledge that he could be killed at almost any moment. All for a crime he didn't commit. He missed most of his 20s and 30s. He went in as a young man and came out middle aged.
No one can give him that time back, but at least the state was able to give him his future back. If those men had died, no one could have restored anything to them. And despite the successful ending of this story, it has to make you wonder how many people on death row are equally innocent but are murdered anyway.
In the Bible, Abraham manages to wheedle God down to saving Sodom and Gomorrah if there are just 10 good people in the entire city. We already know for a fact that there have been more than 10 innocent people on death row. How many innocent human beings are we willing to kill before we, too, have mercy?
Marlayna Soenneker is a freshman psychology major. Her column appears every other Thursday.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Thursday, April 6, 2000