Sunday, April 24, 2011

Retribution & Justice, or Murder & Revenge?

This has been a difficult week for me, in more ways than one. Probably most difficult was hearing the news on The TODAY Show on Thursday that one of Tori's LHS '10 classmates is charged with first degree murder down in Ocala FL, in a horrific crime. She was one of 6 people who participated in a scheme to torture and murder a 15-year old boy, then burn and dispose of his charred remains in paint cans. Truly unimaginable.

This young woman is 18, same as my sweet daughter. She had many of the same teachers in our school system as Tori, many of the same acquaintances, many of the same role models. She has loving adoptive parents, family members who raised her and her siblings as their own children to give her a better chance at a productive life. These adoptive parents have to be so terribly devastated - I can't even imagine.

Tori is now living down in FL, not too terribly far from where this classmate aided & abetted in this terrible murder. She is hearing, both out and around and on local news, that many people feel that these 6 people who took the 15 year old's life, should "hang in public," "be shot and tortured while we all watch," "burn at the stake," and "die a horrible death - kill 'em!"

I thank God that, though I was raised to support the Death Penalty and see criminals' lives as worth less than spit, as an adult I have come to realize that state-sanctioned killing is no more just than cold-blooded murder. The legal process to put someone to death is lengthy, costly, and cruel - not only to the accused (or actual) perpetrator(s), but also to those who loved the victim. It breeds hatred and loathing, depression and guilt, and really does not deter other people in society from committing crimes that may carry the death penalty as punishment. My parents, even my mom who was one of the most kind and generous people I've ever met, believed that our tax dollars should not be spent to feed, clothe, house and even educate prisoners accused of more heinous crimes. Thus, I believed this, too.

Then, I became a parent. Bruce and I did our very best to raise Tori with compassion, a strong sense of right & wrong, a sense of selflessness, and the knowledge that if she based her life on the Golden Rule - corny as it may seem - she'd have opportunities to a happy and fulfilling life. So far, so good. Thank God she has (mostly) understood and lived by the principles we hold dear. I mean, we're all only human. We make bad decisions, probably more often than we'd ever like to admit. Some of those bad decisions have serious consequences. I feel truly blessed that Tori has grown into a beautiful, moral, productive adult. What made her "get it," and Charlie not?

Charlie Ely's bad decisions have led to a first degree murder charge in a state which sanctions the Death Penalty. I have never known her well, but nonetheless, she is a mere 18 year old raised with the same principles taught to her as we taught our 18 year old. No matter how heinous the crime, she does not deserve to die to set an example or satisfy society's desire for revenge.

Capital Punishment is not a deterrent - and it is horribly expensive to society, both in terms of financial and moral bankruptcy:

According to a survey of the former and present presidents of the country's top academic criminological societies, 88% of experts rejected the notion that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder. (Radelet & Lacock, 2009)

The exorbitant costs of capital punishment are actually making America less safe because badly needed financial and legal resources are being diverted from effective crime fighting strategies. Before the Los Angeles riots, for example, California had little money for innovations like community policing, but was managing to spend an extra $90 million per year on capital punishment. Texas, with over 300 people on death row, is spending an estimated $2.3 million per case, but its murder rate remains one of the highest in the country. (NOTE: The LA Riots began the night Tori was born, in the same year as Charlie)

The high price of the death penalty is often most keenly felt in those counties responsible for both the prosecution and defense of capital defendants. A single trial can mean near bankruptcy, tax increases, and the laying off of vital personnel. Trials costing a small county $100,000 from unbudgeted funds are common and some officials have even gone to jail in resisting payment.

Human rights advocates and civil libertarians continue to decry the immorality of state-sanctioned killing in the U.S., the only western industrialized country that continues to use the death penalty.

Further, the death penalty is not necessary to achieve the benefit of protecting the public from murderers who may strike again. Locking murderers away for life achieves the same goal without requiring us to take yet another life. Nor is the death penalty necessary to ensure that criminals "get what they deserve." Justice does not require us to punish murder by death. It only requires that the gravest crimes receive the severest punishment that our moral principles would allow us to impose.


While it is clear that the death penalty is by no means necessary to achieve certain social benefits, it does, without a doubt, impose grave costs on society. First, the death penalty wastes lives. Many of those sentenced to death could be rehabilitated to live socially productive lives. Carrying out the death penalty destroys any good such persons might have done for society if they had been allowed to live. Furthermore, juries have been known to make mistakes, inflicting the death penalty on innocent people. Had such innocent parties been allowed to live, the wrong done to them might have been corrected and their lives not wasted.

What galls me most is that many of those calling for these young peoples' blood to spill are likely anti-choice. They most likely would have done all possible to protect these 6 peoples' lives in vitro, but now that they're born and have made extremely poor choices in the most heinous sense, these anti-choice want their lives snuffed out.

I'm sorry, but this is not justice. It is not retribution. IT IS MURDER. And why is it ok for us, as a society, in MY name and the name of others I love, to kill when we consider killing to be the most serious of crimes? Makes absolutely no sense to me. Never will.

Today is Easter Sunday. Christians just spent a week of introspection, asking God to forgive their human frailties, to shower them with Grace. Jesus' death and Resurrection have given us all hope. My greatest hope is that Charlie finds her way back into productive society. When it is her time to die, she'll face the greatest Judge she'll ever face. I pray that she makes things right and accepts His greatest gift: forgiveness, granted if only it's requested.

And while I certainly don't understand why or how she could have ever made the choices she's made, I wish for her the love of her family and of God, that such love will rehabilitate her heart and soul. And that such love will keep Florida from taking her life in a misbegotten attempt to "make things right." Killing is NEVER right.

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