Thursday, October 04, 2007

A Short Essay on the Death Penalty

I have been accused of being schizophrenic on the subject of the death penalty.

I earnestly believe that the death penalty is just and even required by scripture for certain crimes. But, I also believe with equal fervor that the death penalty must be enforced within the same evidentiary and procedural limitations as presented in the scriptures.

What does this mean? First, it means that no one should be executed on the word of one witness. There must be two or more eye witnesses for the death penalty conviction to stick. In modern cases, you could have dozens of eye witnesses where, as in the recent trooper killing death sentence that was overturned by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, the whole court room saw video and heard audio tape of the killing.

But second, and perhaps more important, the witnesses must be subject to the same penalty as the accused if they perjure themselves. This would mean that a jail house snitch that rats out his cellmate for a walk on other charges could be executed if he got caught at it. A remarkable number of convictions are obtained by coercing other suspects into testifying against someone who may be totally innocent in return for a lighter sentence or a walk on charges against them. God apparently does not care for snitches. The Biblical rule is straightforward. If you falsely accuse your neighbor, you are liable for the same penalty he would have incurred had he been wrongfully convicted.

I have very little respect for Barry Schenk's position on social issues such as the right to die. But, you have to give him credit for his work with the Innocence Project. Again and again, as happened in the Williamson/Fritz cases, they are proving with irrefutable DNA evidence that American courts and juries get it wrong as often as one time out of three in capital cases.

So as a Christian who serves a God who demands justice be served by his people, how can I not be of two minds about a justice system that rightfully demands the death penalty for some crimes but may be killing one innocent person for every three executed?


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