Friday, June 18, 2010

Let He Who Is Without Sin...

Here's another reason that I don't like the death penalty. Sure, maybe the State "theoretically" retains the right to execute a guilty offender, and possibly even should if it were necessary to save more lives for some reason (which, to paraphrase the catechism, are now practically never).

But it's not really even a concern for the criminal that makes me averse to capital punishment. It's the fact that no man is an island, and so you end up punishing innocent people too, people whose only "crime" was loving them.

I was reading this article about yesterday's rare execution by firing squad. My first thought was that I'd rather die by firing squad (or guillotine, or hanging) than by lethal injection, and that I have no idea why injection is considered more humane than forms of death which are more instant; just so that it leaves a nice clean corpse? I don't care if my corpse is maimed, I'd want to die as quickly as possible! That would be my main concern. But I suppose the State doesn't like messy appearances to remind people of what they're doing (killing someone), they want it to be all cold and clinical.

Then I started reading about the killer's family. Yes, remember, they have families too. Spouses, and parents, and siblings, and children who, in spite of everything they've done, love them:
Gardner ate his last meal – steak, lobster tail, apple pie, vanilla ice cream and 7Up – on Tuesday night, and chose to fast for his last 48 hours. Relatives said their goodbyes on Wednesday.

"We were able to hug and kiss," an emotional Brandie Gardner, the inmate's daughter, told the Deseret News. She was 3 years old when her father was sentenced to die. "He said he loved me and that he was sorry. He has a lot of remorse for what he's done."

Prison officials said Gardner seemed reflective and relaxed on his final day, reading the spy thriller "Divine Justice" and watching the last episode of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. At 8 p.m. he met with a bishop from the Mormon church, the Salt Lake Tribune reported in a minute-by-minute account of Gardner's last moments.

"He's comfortable and he's at peace," a member of Gardner's legal team, Dale Baich, told The New York Times.

About two dozen members of Gardner's family held a vigil outside the prison, some of them wearing T-shirts with his prisoner number. None had planned to witness the execution.

"He didn't want nobody to see him get shot," the inmate's brother, Randy Gardner, told The Associated Press. "I would have liked to be there for him. I love him to death. He's my little brother."

At one point in court proceedings, Gardner described himself as a "nasty little bugger." Court documents excerpted by the AP show his early life was marked by drug addiction, physical and sexual abuse and possible brain damage. "I had a very explosive temper," Gardner admitted.
Is it really fair to punish these people for the their loved one's crime? Surely incarceration is necessary to stop the risk of someone killing again, and there will inevitably be inconvenience for the family there. But to put all of them through the torture of knowing their loved one was going to die at an appointed hour and that there was nothing they could do about it? If that were happening to one of my loved ones, that sounds like a fate worse than death to me. And physical and sexual abuse, and possible brain damage? How can any society create monsters when they are just children, and then feel self-righteous about destroying them?

Forget any thought of kindness or compassion for a killer, even; lock him up if you will, whatever. He may well deserve it. But think of those who love him personally. Think of his children. They didn't do anything wrong. When the State kills an offender (though it retains the right and in rare cases, especially in the past before good prisons, it may have been necessary)...they also punish everyone who loves him. It isn't fair to hurt innocent people and put them through possibly agonizing grief just out of some notion that "well, the victim's family had to deal with it too." The offender's family is usually no less innocent. That is cruel and unusual punishment and a lack of due process indeed, for the family.

This is one place where I real feel that radical Western individualism (as much as I am an individualist) goes gravely wrong. You can't just kill a man as if an individual exists in isolation and can be punished in a vacuum. He's loved by people, innocent people, children even in some cases, mothers, wives. Sometimes people for whom his death will be, for them, worse than their own.

I close reminded of the word's of John Donne, "any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."


Hoanyeon said...

My argument is: if we are to have executions, make them public. None of the arguments for capital punishment make sense without this.

Anonymous said...

"But to put all of them through the torture of knowing their loved one was going to die at an appointed hour and that there was nothing they could do about it?"

Would it be any better for him to die in a prison infirmary decades from now without the benefit of easy access from his loved ones? His loved ones were able to be with him before he died in large part because it was scheduled. So your objection fails.

Yes, the perpetrator's family suffers. That's *his* fault -- he knew what the law and its consequences were and would be for himself and his family. He chose it. He lives -- and dies -- with that. It's his fault.


A Sinner said...

No, my objection doesn't fail at all. I'm sure his loved ones would choose to have those decades with him, if only of periodic visitation, and be able to write letters, etc...than to have him die like this.

It is "his fault" but that doesn't matter. The family isn't him. Punish him inasmuch as you can. Don't punish them; what is this, "Tale of Two Cities"??

You have to balance punishing him with not punishing other innocent people collaterally. Sure, prison may inconvenience the family, but that's unavoidable. This, on the other hand, is totally avoidable. It's hardly a balance as it in effect punishes innocent people MORE than the criminal himself: he dies in a few moments, they have to live with it forever.