Friday, June 18, 2010

Death

Disclaimer: I'm not real sure what I'm trying to say in the following post as I'm trying to sort through my own opinions on the topic. I think it was just important for me to get my thoughts jotted down.

As anybody who lives here in Utah probably knows, Ronnie Lee Gardner was killed by firing squad approximately 24 hours ago. Gardner escaped from prison in 1984, seriously injuring a guard in the process before murdering a bartender in 1984 and an attorney in 1985 (while attempting to escape from prison yet again). He was sentenced to die and selected the firing squad as the method.

With all the news of Gardner's frantic last minute pleas for a stay, the death penalty has been on my mind a lot lately. My current stand on the death penalty is somewhat neutral. While I don't like it or condone it, I'm not pushing for its abolishment either.

I strongly believe that there are many crimes for which the criminal deserves to die. The question is whether or not any of us here on earth have the God-given right or authority to pass this judgment. I don't think that we do, or at least I would never want any portion of such a decision to weigh upon my mortal conscience. The United States is virtually the only Christian nation that allows for the death penalty. Would Jesus Christ condemn a man to die? (I think that the LORD of the Old Testament would, but not the Savior of the New).

Graphic found at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/jun/18/death-penalty-statistics-us-world

What I found especially disturbing in this particular case, was the celebration and excitement the victim's families showed when Gardner's final appeals were rejected. While they see Gardner's death as closure (many of them witnessed the execution), I find it sad that this grief/grudge/hatred has been festering in their lives for the last 25 years. As a disclaimer, I have never had to forgive somebody for killing a family member (or worse crime), so I cannot speak specifically to the pain that they have had to endure. My only hope is that as tragedies or criminal acts impact me in my life, I will have the strength to forgive and move on (not to say that justice should not be served and punishments handed out).

I find myself becoming more compassionate as I embrace democratic principles and have the opportunity to interact with people from all walks of life. If the death penalty is to be used, it should be saved for the most heinous of crimes and only used when the identity of the criminal is known without a doubt (which actually probably justifies it for RLG).

I realize that all circumstances are different. I do not judge those who seek death as retribution.

Your thoughts?

7 comments:

Clark said...

I likewise find the death penalty to be a somewhat tricky topic, and am generally glad that I've been able to stay very far away from it personally thus far.

I found the idea that the LORD of the OT would condemn a man to die, but not the Savior of the NT interesting. It's the same person. Leading me to the question of why a person would advocate the death penalty in one case society and not others. I don't think anyone wants to argue inconsistency from Christ on this one, which leads us to Him prescribing different practices to different societies. Which society are we? (On a side topic, would it have been sin for an OT Israelite to reject "an eye for an eye" by choosing instead "to turn the other cheek"? Does the Mosaic Law require capital punishment, or does it merely allow it? (In the case of the woman caught in adultery, Christ specifically declined to participate in capital punishment, and directly caused others to kill her also.))

Another thought: if anyone is morally uncertain as to supporting the death penalty, wouldn't it make sense to err on the side of not killing people? Unless you think the likely punishment for failing to execute people that should have been executed outweighs the possible punishment for executing those who should not have been. (Think Pascal's Wager, here.)

Finally, I don't think that the death penalty serves any purpose to society. (Which is very different than it's effect on individuals.) I don't think it deters potential murderers. It costs more money that simply incarcerating them for the rest of their lives, and clogs our courts and politics with one more thing to argue about.

So, after all of that, it looks like I am against the death penalty. But I don't seem to have participated in any marches or protests yet.

One final comment about the graphic: the US has a much larger population than the other countries on the list other than China. So, percentage wise, the US is killing a lot fewer people than Iran. (7.5 times the number of executions, 1/4 the population of the US = 30 times rate of capital punishment.) I would be interested to see a list scaled by population size that includes more countries.

alisquire said...

I read some newspaper articles after the execution. Gardner actually had a pretty close relationship with the son of the first guy he killed. The son was only 3 at the time of the killing, but he recently told Gardner that he forgives him. Gardner also had a close relationship with his own daughter and brother, who were saddened by the execution.

The more I think about it, the more I think I'm opposed to it. I don't think it accomplishes anything. The families of the victims felt like they got restitution, but I think that death is the easy way out and he would have suffered more by staying in prison for life.

I just found this: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700041267/LDS-statement-on-blood-atonement.html

Tim said...

An interesting topic for sure, and I am just stating my opinion on this topic as well. Not that my way is the right way, just my thoughts on this subject

I think the Ronnie Lee Gardner case had to be a death penalty case. Here is why:

First Mr. Ronnie Lee Gardner was all ready at the minimum going to spend the rest of his life in prison when he killed Melvyn Otterstrom in a bar in 1984. Otterstrom, a comptroller working for Utah Paper Box, was also working one night a week as a bartender at Cheers Tavern in Salt Lake City. In a robbery gone wrong, Ronnie Lee Gardner shot the man once in the face, leaving him to be discovered later by his wife, Kathy.

And so this is where the question comes? What do you do with a guy who was all ready facing life in prison then goes and kills another individual? Give him another life sentence? I believe there was no other option for them than the death penalty.

Not only was Mr. Gardner a danger to society, he was also a MAJOR management problem while in the Prison. He attacked multiple Correctional Officers (with screwdrivers), and attacked numerous other inmates. In 1998, Department of Corrections officials moved Gardner into Super Max following a string of behavior problems. In 1990, he barricaded the door in the prison visiting area, holding a SWAT team at bay while he had sex with his girlfriend. In 1994, Gardner got drunk from an alcoholic brew he concocted and stabbed inmate Richard "Fatts" Thomas six times..

If you look at the other nine individuals who are currently on death row, I would dare say there crimes were more violent then that of Mr. Gardners (which is hard to do). KSL.com has an article on the others right here: (http://www.ksl.com/index.php?nid=148&sid=11218461)

Another interesting fact you talked about was the amount of people we execute as a country ranks us as the fifth highest country in terms of executions. Which would seem to be pretty high, however, The United States has less than 5 percent of the world's population. But it has almost a quarter of the world's prisoners.


The United States has, for instance, 2.3 million criminals behind bars, more than any other nation, according to data maintained by the International Center for Prison Studies at King's College London.

China, which is four times more populous than the United States, is a distant second, with 1.6 million people in prison. So while the amount of people we incarcerate is considerably higher then other countries (Not good), our actual executions rates are FAR lower then most other countries in the world that exercise the execution option (good).

I do agree with what you said here: "I strongly believe that there are many crimes for which the criminal deserves to die. The question is whether or not any of us here on earth have the God-given right or authority to pass this judgment." I too am glad I NEVER would have to make such decisions on whether a man should live or die. However, sometimes I wonder what other options we have, especially when the most outrageous of crimes has been committed (i.e. the Sloops).

The last thing I want to touch on is about is does the death penalty prevent others from doing the same? I would say 99% of the time it does not. However, if the death penalty prevents just one person from committing a murder, I will gladly pay whatever it takes to continue to use the death penalty.

Is our judicial system perfect? Not only no, but HECK no! I deal with the juducial system everyday for work, and find LOTS of problems with it. To say yay or nay on the subject of the death penalty is hard, however, I do agree some situations the death sentence is the right sentence.
Thats my two cents on this at least.

tysqui said...

Clark, Alison and Tim - Thanks for your insightful comments. There are many angles that I didn't think about and I knew nothing of Gardner's past encounters. I'm inclined to agree with you Tim that when a person that has been sentenced to life in prison kills another person, the best remaining option of punishment is the death penalty.

Sandy said...

Interesting and sobering post and discussion. Although I've abandoned the Judeo-Christian theology, I still look at the lessons of Christ I grew up with, to be my moral compass. I am ultimately left with NT teachings and the most important one in my estimation – is the Golden Rule.
Regardless of theology and belief, I think forgiveness and Love thy neighbor is the most difficult to practice. Easier said than done. We are still rooted in our bodies, with our evolved animal instincts encoded in our behavioral makeup. Fight or Flight is a very real biological response to fear. Adding to our biological boundaries, we American's have a very real sense of fair play and justice.
A couple of practical and moral / ethical issues come up for me: The simplest one is the cost of putting someone to death is drastically more expensive than keeping them behind bars for life. Is that a cost I, as a tax payer, care to share? Is this the best place for us to be spending our finite tax dollars?
I question the government's role in the death penalty for the same reason I don't believe in the state having a right to sanction abortion (a la China). Furthermore, I doubt the government's ability to exercise capital punishment justly due to past and present failings in this area. I do believe in the idea of a jury of one’s peers - and I trust that jury to find someone innocent or guilty. But, that is as far as I'm willing to trust my fellow man, judge or jury. Too often in our history, a judge or jury of one's peers have exercised their politics, hate, bias, fear, above justice.
There are no capital punishment standards. The government has NOT exercised capital punishment judiciously. We have standards governing mandatory sentencing for all sorts of crimes, but we have not established a standard level of criminal behavior to apply the death penalty. The death penalty is applied too arbitrarily, depending on what state you live in, or what side of the socio, economic, racial line you fall on. Maybe I would be open if a standard was defined (ie: Criminal committed X type of crime, X number of times, with X level of forethought/premeditation/intent, beyond ANY doubt).
But I think the ideal I weigh most in my internal debate is the value human life.
I, again, look to my upbringing, and believe we are ALL children of God. All loved by God equally. And we are all sinners. We may not all be punished her but if we don't repent, punishment will be doled out later (ie, in the fires of hell). Obviously I've simplified here, but the fact remains I believe in the inherent, unquantifiable value of life.
Life is too valuable to trade, one for another, even if one life was taken by the other. A sin or crime does not define a person's entire being. Nor does it devalue it. Otherwise, at the end of our life we are all less valuable than when we started life. If you believe in the Eucharist or in forgiveness, this is not the case. We are not heading down an ever-decreasing slope of value as we live our lives and make mistakes? A sick person is no less valuable than a healthy person. A prostitute is no less valuable than a saint.
Our society places a monetary value on people's lives. But that is a social standard that is based on an arbitrary social value, not the actual value of life. Paris Hilton, the Pope, the President, the Prophet is not valued above your child, just because they are valued more in our society. An insurance company may pay out a dollar amount when someone dies, or to keep a sick person alive, but I don't believe anyone thinks that amount is what that person is actually worth - it is what that person/family could afford to pay in insurance premiums.
The value of human life, regardless of how tarnished, is ultimately why I question the validity of the state or jury of one's peers to exercise capital punishment. Jesus made no exceptions in this area so neither will I.

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