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  • Cary Donham

JUSTICE BLOWING IN THE WIND: LIFE OR DEATH?




Mass shootings implicate both peace and politics. they shatter the pace of a location and they create political fodder both for opponents and proponents of gun control. (Personally I am strongly in favor of gun control, especially of banning and confiscating assault, rapid fire weapons).


The jury in the Parkland school shooting trial sentenced shooter Nicholas Cruz to life imprisonment without parole. This verdict caused a predictable uproar from parents of the 14 children Cruz murdered who would have preferred that he face the death penalty. I can only try to understand the feelings of the parents who seek revenge. Losing a child to senseless violence is almost impossible to comprehend, so I can't really fault the parents who want Cruz to die.


However, I disagree with putting someone to death. If one is against war, because it involves killing other humans, then one should be against executions, even for heinous crimes. There are both moral and practical reasons for this stance.


As to the moral reasons, the New Testament speaks of acknowledging your neighbor as a human, even when the neighbor is not a good person. Also, as fulfilling as it might seem, is revenge a worthy reason for executions? Three members of the New Light Congregation were among those murdered in the mass murder that killed eleven worshipers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Beth Kissilef, wife of Rabbi Perlman, who survived the shooting, told the prosecution team: “Our Bible has many laws about why people should be put to death. … But our sages and rabbis decided that after biblical times these deaths mean death at the hands of heaven, not a human court.” She writes, “if as religious people we believe that life is sacred, how can we be permitted to take a life, even the life of someone who has committed horrible actions?” I believe the New Testament is consistent with Ms. Kissilef's sentiments. https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/news/pittsburgh-rabbis-wife-opposes-death-penalty-for-tree-of-life-synagogue-killings.



There are equally compelling practical reasons for seeking life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for murderers, as an alternative to capital punishment, despite the natural and immediate desire for revenge. First, death penalty proceedings are very long. The average time between sentencing and execution in 1984 was 74 months, or about six years. In 2019, the average length of time between sentencing and execution had increased to 22 years and the average prisoner awaiting execution had spent 19 years on death row. In fact, in California, since more prisoners on death row died of natural causes than executions. (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/07/19/10-facts-about-the-death-penalty-in-the-u-s/). That length of time is costly in terms of legal proceedings, and does not provide the prompt closure that families believe executions might provide. Speaking of closure, A University of Minnesota study found that only 2.5% of victims’ family members reported achieving closure as a result of capital punishment. In contrast, the study found that 20.1% said the execution did not help them heal. https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/facts-and-research/new-voices/victims-families


Finally, execution is truly a final solution. Yet since 1973, at least 190 prisoners convicted and sentenced to death have been later exonerated. How many have been wrongly executed? Also, how many murderers have been psychologically damaged during their upbringing or suffered other mitigating factors? To me, just the possibility of killing an innocent human is enough to get rid of the death penalty, even in cases where there is little doubt about guilt.



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