Til Death Do Us Part

I just watched a program about a man on death row. It followed his family and lawyers as they fought for appeals and to prove his innocence, and the people in the DA’s office and court system as they attempted to reexamine the evidence to ensure that they had the right man for the crime. In the end, it was determined that there was not enough evidence to overturn his conviction and the man was executed. I had a very emotional reaction to this show, and was sobbing by the end.

I’ve never really had a solid stance on the death penalty. It’s something that I go back and forth on, yet I seem to fall on the “against” side more often than the “for” side. I understand that taking the life of someone that took the life of someone else is one of those “country justice,” “an-eye-for-an-eye” things. I understand that keeping people in prison for life eats away at our tax dollars and eats up space in an already overcrowded system. 
However, the death penalty is essentially murder. It’s taking someone’s life. It’s like the people that argue that the killing of Dr. Tiller was okay because he had “murdered” 60,000 babies. Even if you consider what Dr. Tiller did to be murder (which I don’t and will address in a post later in the week), that doesn’t make murdering him in return okay or excusable. How can you say you are pro-life and then kill someone? It always baffles me when so many people that claim to be pro-life are also pro-capital punishment. It just seems like an oxymoron to me. Furthermore, what if the person executed happens to be wrongly convicted? On that slight chance that someone is sitting on death row for something that they didn’t do, their execution would be a tragic, terrible mistake. No one deserves to sit in prison for life for something they didn’t do, but they sure as hell don’t deserve to be executed for it, either.

But my reaction was to the wife of the man that was awaiting execution. You see, I’ve been the woman on the other side of the glass, staring at the man she loves but is unable to touch. Granted, my ex was not in prison for murder and he was not on death row. But I still understand what it’s like to be without the person that you love, to only be able to communicate through bulletproof glass and speak via telephone. To sit at home each evening waiting for their call. To write them letters so that they don’t feel so lonely. To have weekly visits in which you see a man that is beaten, fading, dirty, hopeless, and miserable. To see a man that no longer looks like the same person that you fell in love with.
That is hard enough on someone. But knowing that the person that I loved was going to be executed would be almost impossible to bear. Yes, I know that the victim’s family doesn’t even have the option of communicating with the person that they love. I know that the victim was taken from their family with no warning and in a brutal manner. However, I also sympathize with the perpetrator’s family. Their family didn’t commit the crime or the murder; the perpetrator did. And the families suffer quite a bit just knowing that someone they love could do something so horrific, and just knowing that the person they love will be spending the rest of their life in jail. It’s not just the family of the victim that suffers; the family of the perpetrator suffers, too.
There are two sides to every coin. Two sides to every story. But at the end of the day, everyone involved is a human being. And I don’t know that “an eye for an eye” is really the best way to handle things. Violence begets violence. The killing of one person doesn’t excuse the killing of another.
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  1. Meg
    Posted June 8, 2009 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

    I agree on so many points–who am I, who are any of us, to say that someone should die for their crime?

    I will, however, admit, that I shed no tears when the perpetrators of the most heinous crimes die in prison (like Jeffrey Dahmer).

  2. Roland Hulme
    Posted June 9, 2009 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    Great minds think alike – I wrote a post about this last week. It always boggles my mind how so-called Christians can claim to be 'pro-life' but then support the death penalty – which has been the cause of many innocent people's deaths over the years.


  3. Bass Man
    Posted June 9, 2009 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    I always fear giving the Govt power that leaves me without a balancing power. We have been lucky in the US in that we have not elected a despot to the executive office. But put one in office with the power to execute his subjects. Why limit it to just murders? We argue today that we'd never let that happen – we'd never permit killing political opponents or jaywalkers. Try talking to the people of Chile (a US ally at the time) or any of numerous African regimes. Or the citizens of Florida and Texas during the 90s when the Bush brothers were having a contest to see who could kill more…

  4. mkp-hearts-nyc
    Posted June 9, 2009 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    I wrote a paper on this in college – it actually costs more to execute someone than to keep them in prison for life! I'm wholeheartedly against the death penalty, not just because of the simplistic "why do we kill people to teach them that killing is wrong." The system is so broken at this point – a disproportionate number of those executed are people of color, and DNA evidence being relatively recent as it is, there's not a lot of justice in how the death penalty is administered.

  5. J
    Posted June 9, 2009 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    mkp, Interesting. Why does it cost more? All of the legal maneuvering? I wouldn't think that that actual act would cost any more than a year of imprisonment.

    Just being devil's advocate here (these are not my feelings), pro-lifers that are pro-death penalty (not all are) feel abortion is killing an innocent life and but the death penalty is killing a person that can't be "fixed."

  6. nenasadije
    Posted June 9, 2009 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    in some cases confining a person to death row is more expensive than confining a person to the general population of a maximum security prison. and overall, the costs associated with death penalty trials are significantly higher (investigation, pre-trial, trial, and post-trial actions).

  7. alana
    Posted June 9, 2009 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    People are always surprised I don’t have an opinion about this either way really (considering that, as you know, I have a strong opinion on almost everything else). I do think our penal system needs a major overall and the death penalty should only be used in cases of extreme violent acts against more then three people.

    I do know that prison can sometimes be a good thing and not all people become disheartened and/or broken. My mother would have never gotten her GED if it wasn’t for the last time she was in jail. She also got diagnosed with some medical issues that she never would have had the money to go to a doctor for.

  8. Nolens Volens
    Posted June 9, 2009 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    I did a research paper on capital punishment many years ago…it doesn't work because 1) the crime/murder rates remained the same when a state used that, 2) the cost of following through vs the cost of sending someone away for 99 years, and 3) the average length for a person waiting on death row – would take a state 10 years straight of executing a person every week to clear the backlog…and that's not even counting the new inmates since then.

    I am NOT against it nor am I in favor for it. I just want the judges to grow balls and stop letting the lawyers abuse the legal system to create more backlogs on other cases that aren't murder-related.

  9. LL Cool Joe
    Posted June 9, 2009 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    I agree with you Britni.

    Is that a first??? ;)

  10. Tessier
    Posted June 9, 2009 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    Justification for the death penalty versus abortion is guilt versus innocence. Trying to rank them together only works if you truly feel that human life is sacrosanct…which few to no people really do.

    Justification for the death penalty itself is pretty straightforward. A dead criminal commits no crimes.

    Personally I think the death penalty is much more humane than locking a sentient being away for life. To me, that is a sentence of ongoing torture which seems reprehensible. If it wasn't so expensive, I'd love to see it used a lot more often…and brought into white collar crimes. Bernie Madoff, as an example, has done more damage to more people than any single murder criminal.

  11. I'm MIXED bitch.
    Posted June 9, 2009 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    I am very, very much against the death penalty, and unfortunately live in the state that commits most of these kinds of murders.

    Killing is wrong. It doesn't matter how or why it's done, and it doesn't matter who does it.

    Sure keeping criminals alive in our prison system eats up tax dollars, but it actually costs LESS to keep someone in prison for life (life expectancy in prison is MUCH LOWER than outside) than the cost of the entire appeals process in our judicial system for a case wherein the prosecutor seeks the death penalty.


  12. Britni TheVadgeWig
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 3:02 am | Permalink

    Tessier, I can't get on board with the feeling of using the death penalty more than we already do. I don't like the thought of being able to kill people for all kinds of different crimes. it seems inhumane and uncivilized.

  13. {{ d a n i m o }}
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    "violence begets violence" — yes, ma'am. i'd like to see that program too; what was it called or what channel was it on?

    i'm pretty much word for word in agreement with you on this one. i'm not sure how i feel about the death penalty but even with the "humane" way we euthanize inmates currently, i can see so many problems with it. i mean, first of all, living out (concurrent, consecutive, or any) life sentence has got to be worse than being given a fantasy last meal and knowing the exact date of your death, luxuries your victims presumably didn't have. dying by the hands of other death row inmates who find you vile even in their company seems so much more fair somehow, though i'm not vouching for that either.

    a nice introduction to a complicated subject, britni.

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