Years never expressing an opinion of the death penalty. “Thou shalt not kill” I was taught though that seemed incongruous with “An eye for an eye”. The death penalty was legal and then it wasn’t and then it was. The nullification more about humane methods of killing rather than the actual act of killing. And then A. Jay Chapman’s more ‘humane’ cocktail. The commandments and my upbringing didn’t lead me to a challenge of the death penalty. Surely the convicted must be guilty. The police gathered evidence that led to an arrest. What if the person confessed? That was the proof. Or a jury convicted them based on solid evidence. So many assumptions in those sentences. How could mistakes keep percolating down the line from investigation, arrest, trial, and sentencing. Someone was seeking the truth? Weren’t they?
But some of those convicted weren’t guilty. Some of those who confessed weren’t guilty. And each day reminders of years of mistakes. Exoneration based on DNA or repudiated hair or bite analysis or hidden exculpatory evidence or recanting witnesses or confessions by the real perpetrator. Less from guilt-ridden perpetrators than from errors in arrest and prosecution. Guilt-ridden is often not emotion felt in perpetrators or prosecutors. No empathy for the devastation of an innocent person taking the rap. Case closed.
I can’t sit on the side delivering a deadly cocktail. I’m on the side saying “Stop the killing.” The side following countdowns to death. A countdown for an innocent person or a guilty one. It makes no difference. To save the innocent, we must also save the guilty. I listen to stories of horrific crimes and agree that the person doesn’t seem to have a purpose in life. But then I search a name of someone who spent years in prison as an innocent person and possibly on death row waiting for what must seem like one of the most unfair things that life asks. Sacrifice your life for some idea of justice. What if that person were actually innocent? Death penalty—a mistake that can never be reversed once executed. The only way to prevent any chance of making such a mistake is to abolish it.
I cede a certain unpredictability to those who say, “Just wait until someone murders or rapes your loved one. Then see what you believe.” Someone did something horrible to a loved one, and it did change what I believed in and who I trusted. So of course it’s very possible to do an about-face. I read a story a couple of days ago of a rape and murder of a child. I wanted to kill that man. He was a monster. He actions seemed to warrant death. Perhaps all he had to offer was a view of a person who could commit such a monstrous act. Or maybe he offers something unforeseen. How do we miss the monstrous side of someone? Why can we not see the narcissist or sociopath or psychopath who lives with us or works with us or we place our trust until too late? But it’s not about saving that person. The guilty are the price to save the innocent.
We cannot rely on confessions. We cannot rely on forensics that may be discounted or reinterpreted years later or even manufactured by unscrupulous people. We cannot rely on eyewitnesses who make mistakes or are coerced by law enforcement or just outright liars seeking something intangible from their lies. If these things are not 100% reliable, then how can we execute without absolute certainty of guilt? We cannot rely on branches of our justice system to look for the truth once a conviction and sentence is passed. Are the wrongly convicted just an anomaly of justice gone wrong or tip of an iceberg indicative of a system that keeps failing? If the system is getting it wrong, then we live with a false sense of security and justice for victims. We hide from doubt, turning our back on it. A system that sticks to its guns in certainty.
I wish I could write eloquently of why we should abolish the death penalty. I have no eloquence. It is simple, yet not. I do not want to be a part of fatal errors that can be avoided. It feels immoral to kill our mistakes. Is the death penalty a deterrent? As the United States stands near the top of the food chain in incarcerations, then it would seem not.
If I should be murdered, I will not hover as some wisp of retribution waiting until some person pays for my death. There is no trade-off. My heart will still not beat. Be remembered for life and not death.