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The Verdict...and the Death Penalty

I have opinions. Anyone that knows me knows that I have opinions. I do believe that there are crimes so heinous that the person or people responsible should be put to death.

The October 1st, 1910 bombing of the LA Times offices.

The 1920 Wall Street bombing.

The Holocaust.

The 1975 LaGuardia Airport bombing.

The 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

The 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing.

The September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

The Boston Marathon bombings.

The 2015 Chattanooga military shootings.

It's actually relatively easy for me to see the use of the death penalty in these cases, and the Aurora Theater shooting falls into this category as well. A person who uses force to commit harm against others, most of whom are defenseless in these cases, deserves the fate they have brought upon others. It's easy for me to think this, it's easy for me to type this.


Because it's all theoretical here in the land of the internet.

I will never be the one holding the syringe. I will never pull the lever that turns on the chair. I will never be the hangman, the headman, or the loaded gun in a firing squad.

So I can say easily that I believe there are crimes so heinous that a person deserves the death penalty.

But, when it comes to putting that into practice, I'm torn.

If you read the Old Testament you might believe that Judaism supports capital punishment. There are thirty-six different crimes for which the death penalty is the prescribed penalty, but if you look farther, and spend time in the Talmud, you'll find that the Rabbis who wrote the Talmud made it nearly impossible to impose capital punishment, and in 2003 the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association wrote the following.

Whereas both in concept and in practice, Jewish leaders throughout over the past 2000 plus years have refused, with rare exception, to punish criminals by depriving them of their lives; And whereas current evidence and technological advances have shown that as many as three hundred people... have been wrongly convicted of capital crimes in America in the last century, which underscores the Jewish concern over capital punishment since all human systems of justice are inherently fallible and imperfect - Therefore, we resolve that the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association go on record opposing the death penalty under all circumstances, opposing the adoption of death penalty laws, and urging their abolition in states that already have adopted them

The Catholic Church has had numerous, and frequently somewhat interesting things, to say about capital punishment. Let's start with the first recorded murder in history, that of Cain killing his brother Abel.

When Cain killed Abel, God did not end Cain's life. Instead, he sent Cain into exile, not only sparing his life but protecting it by putting a mark on Cain, lest anyone should kill him at sight.

The very first instance of a capital crime, and God does not instantly smite the offender, but in fact protects him so that others will not attempt to repeat his crime on his very person.

Further in the same document, "A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death", the church writes the following.

We also share the hurt and horror, the loss and heartache that are the result of unspeakable acts of violence. We have presided at the funerals of police officers killed in the line of duty and have consoled parents who have lost children. We have heard the anger and despair of victims families who feel ignored by the criminal justice system, society as a whole, and, at times, even the Church. Our family of faith must care for sisters and brothers who have been wounded by violence and support them in their loss and search for justice. They deserve our compassion, solidarity, and support spiritual, pastoral, and personal. However, standing with families of victims does not compel us to support the use of the death penalty.

That last sentence stands out to me. It's possible to stand with the victims, to feel their pain, to be there to console them, without advocating the use of the death penalty.

Finally, I want to talk about the position jurors were put in during this most recent trial. It is my understanding that to sentence someone to death in Colorado that all twelve members of the jury must sign their names to the Death Warrant. Read that again, and then read it one more time as I type it again. All twelve members of the jury must sign the Death Warrant.

I can't imagine doing it. Despite this theoretical belief that some crimes are so heinous they deserve the death sentence, I'm not aware of how I'd react when I had to pull the proverbial trigger by signing my name to that document. Could I sleep at night? Could I face my priest the following day? Could I look at my family, my friends, the people closest to me, and still be the same person.

In signing that warrant have I become the thing I hate? Have I taken from someone what is not mine to take?

I can't help but feel pain for the victims families today, but I also can't help but feel some sympathy for the twelve jurors who had to make this decision. Capital punishment is a divisive topic. Three out of five people in the country support the death penalty in murder cases, but two out of ten people feel we use the death penalty too often. Three out of five people supporting the penalty means that, in mathematical theory, six or eight of the twelve were in support of capital punishment.

I feel for the families and friends of the victims. The horrific loss that they have dealt with since that day is unspeakable. I also feel for the jury. I feel unsure of whether or not I could sleep after signing a Death Warrant. I feel unsure as to if that is how I want history to remember me. I fear that signing that Death Warrant would turn me into the thing that I hate.

So, despite this abstract belief that in some cases the death penalty may be justified, I lean into a stronger belief, that a criminal justice system run by people will, by its very nature, suffer from flaws, and that those flaws should not endanger the life of a person, so I'm opposed to the death penalty, in all cases.

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