Death Penalty

We have done some pretty barbaric things to each other in this country in the name of justice. We’ve hung, drawn and quartered, dipped in boiling oil, dragged by horses to Tythburn before hanging and beheaded. This list is not exhaustive but we can take some consolation in the fact that the history of many other civilised countries is peppered with similar acts.

We don’t have to look far into modern times to see that in some countries summary executions continue either at the hands of lawful governments or despotic dictators.

I got up this morning and whilst enjoying a boiled egg I read the tweets from overnight. There was much discussion about the Troy Davis case in Georgia. I had not kept up with the news yesterday but it was quite apparent this man was facing execution. Many of the tweets argued against this action and hopes appeared to be lifted when a possible stay was mooted. As I read on though the tone changed again and finally the inevitability of it all began to filter into my timeline. He was dead. Killed by lethal injection. No matter his crime and knowing nothing more about the case I sent up a small prayer. May he rest in peace. I then dragged on my uniform, jumped into the car and headed to work.

As is my routine I listened to the Today program on BBC radio 4 on the journey. I have little interest in the financial news and sport that precedes the 6.30 headlines. I pondered on the death penalty and concluded how wrong it is. I can’t quote case specifics but thought of a number of cases where incarcerated offenders have had their case overturned after many years in prison. Stefan Kiszko, the Guildford 4, the Birmingham 6 and the Renault 5.

The criminal justice system is not flawless. It is good but not infallible and mistakes have been made. The beauty of the cases above (with one exception) was that when the cases were overturned the prisoners were releasable. They had not been executed.

As I drove the headlines turned to the execution. The announcer broadcast that Davis was convicted of the murder of a police officer. Suddenly my sensitivity changed. I understood why the death penalty had been applied. The police are our last line of defence from anarchy. A clear signal needs to go out that murdering a police officer carries the highest penalty.

I suddenly remembered an email I received a while ago. I have no evidence to authenticate it and have not searched for it. The basis was that a US police Sheriff was questioned at an inquest as to why his officers shot a male accused of killing a police officer 70 times. His reply, allegedly, ” Because we ran out of bullets.” The humour was not lost on me in the typical black humour of the police.

This soliloquy lasted no more than a few seconds before I pulled myself up short. What was I thinking? Those of you that know me will know also of my faith. I’m not perfect… far from it but “thou shalt not kill” slapped me between the eyes. No matter the crime and whether 100% guilty, or not as the reports are now indicating, even if this person killed we do not have the right to do the same. Even if we masquerade it under the banner of justice. I was always told that two wrongs don’t make a right. What he may have done was wrong but what the state of Georgia and the USA have done to him is just as wrong.

Try him yes. Convict him yes. Imprison him yes. Execute him? No. He may spend the rest of his days in prison and he will face the ultimate judge one day but that is not us. Execution cannot be appealed. I only know of one person who was resurrected from the dead.

The death penalty is final. Even after 21yrs in prison there is still considerable doubt about the Troy Davis case. If we can’t get to the truth in 21 years then it gives us a great example that ultimately, no matter how sure we are, we can still be very, very wrong.

The arguments to return the death penalty to the UK died today with Troy Davis on a gurney in a prison in Georgia.


12 thoughts on “Death Penalty”

  1. Thanks for those thought Sarge.

    I've had similar thoughts over the death penalty over the years, which has spilled into a “so what, he's done us a favour” thought process when hearing if the suicides of such people as Fred West, and Ian Huntley.

    But I think when you take the life of someone in the name of justice, right and just tho it may be on one level, you have robbed them of the opportunity to repent and change, and that can't be right.

    You and I share a job and a faith and I thank you for your thoughts today.


  2. Sarge,

    I understand your point pf view but I still can not help but think that if it had been one of my team that had murdered, i would of wanted the death penalty to be carried out.

  3. Can you explain why you feel that way? I've been discussing this with a friend today. What makes people feel that way.

    I understand the pain that victims families go through but a further death will not bring a loved one back. Is killing someone in the name of justice really no better than the offenders actions?

  4. I think it is quite sad that many of the supporters of capital punishment in the USA are the ones who claim to be Christians and have their political opinions given to them by evangelical churches. I'm an atheist, but I always agreed with the commandment about not killing people. It's quite sensible, really. Even if you ignore religion and start deriving morals from “what is acceptable for other people to do to me” then killing is still well off the list. I am glad to see you remembered that commandment.

    I also firmly believe that a government should protect its citizens. All of them. Once it starts killing them it's not doing that anymore.

  5. When it comes to the death penalty I abhor it. I fundamentally disagree with people who try and justify it using scriptures as well.
    As Christians we are to take our examples of how we should live our life from Jesus. I think particularly of the parable of the woman caught in adultery. I think it very relevant when discussing the issue of capital punishment, the context of this parable is an execution after all. In it Jesus declares “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” In my view what Jesus is telling us here is that we should remember that not one of us is perfect and that in God’s eyes no one sin is more of a sin than any other. They are all equal and whether you steal a 50p bar of chocolate or take the life of another in God’s eyes one is just as bad as the other. While we have legal systems and cast judgments upon others I think this passage essentially limits the judgment of who is to live and who is to die to God and God alone. We do not have the right to decide that the life of another man should be taken; that is God’s right alone.
    I’m trying to keep this comment short and hope that you get what I mean by the above. I could literally write pages explaining it, but suspect that’s unnecessary here.
    Despite what the victim’s family think and feel I really do not believe that they had justice when Troy Davis was executed. There was simply too much doubt surrounding the case and at the very least the state should have put him on trial a second time to test the evidence with all that had transpired over the intervening decades. Fooling people into thinking that they have had justice is not justice at all. Our justice system, despite what people believe, isn’t about getting to the truth. After all, the Court is not God. It’s not all seeing and all knowing. It only knows what the parties before it decide to place before it. We get it wrong and if you execute a person there is no way of attempting to put that right. Let’s look at some of the people who are now known to be innocent but had there been Capital Punishment would most probably have been executed before their innocence was proven (and had they been executed would we even know they were innocent, would the same level of pressure have been brought to bear had they been executed?):
    Hugh Callaghan, Patrick Joseph Hill, Gerard Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, William Power and John Walker (“Birmingham Six”)
    Tony Paris, Yusef Abdullahi and Stephen Miller (“Cardiff Three”)
    Raphael George Rowe, Michael George Davis, and Randolph Egbert Johnson (“M25 Three”)
    Barry George (convicted of murdering the TV presenter Jill Dando)

    At the risk of writing an essay on the subject I will leave it there.

  6. And Alister, like many people, you apply Christ's teaching into areas where they are not directly applicable- as when you apply instructions to disciples to matters of Law and State. Read Romans 13 v 4 which teaches the Lord's attitude to State and criminal activity-particularly think about what a sword is used for.

  7. Finally, Alister, what about those murderers who get let out early from prison sentences but go on to kill again. Far more people are killed by released murderers than those who are executed and then found to be innocent.

  8. The below comment is from Anglichan.. I accidentally deleted it via my iPhone.

    Sarge, your interpretation of 'Thou shalt not kill' is flawed. Hebrew, like in English, has words which distinguish between different kinds of killing. In the verse you quoted, from Exodus 20 v 13, the word translated, 'kill'is more akin in meaning to our English word, 'murder'. Otherwise, if there was a overarching command not to take human life then God's command to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 17 v 7 wouldn't make much sense. Indeed, the State has an obligation to sentence ALL wilful murderers to execution. See Romans 13 v 4.
    For a fuller exposition of this theme then you might like to listen to this.

  9. Sarge wrote,'Is killing someone in the name of justice really no better than the offenders actions?'

    I'm surprised that a professing Christian [and a policeman] asks that question. The concept of Justice, in terms of appropriate punishment for wrongdoing is at the heart of the Gospel. God's justice demands punishment for sin. A 'life for a life' concept has nothing to do with whether or not it 'brings the person back'. God said that the soul that sins will surely die. If God doesn't enact that decree then He is unjust.

    Further, that sentence has been passed down from generation to generation upon the sons of Adam. Christ, the second Adam, Who knew no sin, died on the cross, 'the Just for the unjust,' in order to pay the penalty for sin. That meant justice was satisfied.

    Justice was also at the heart of the resurrection. Christ, Who is sinless, died for sinners, but, because he never broke the Law, death had no legal hold on Him. 'Justice' demanded He be set free from death.

    What's more, Christ's death was vicarious and now God, as Judge, can extend mercy because His justice was satisfied through the death of His Son. See Romans 3 vs 24-26.

    'Killing' someone is not the issue. Unlawful killing is the issue. There is a world of difference between the two 'forms'.

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