Capital Punishment A Religious Debate Essay, Research Paper
Capital punishment is defined as the execution of criminals by the state, for committing crimes, regarded as so heinous that it is the only acceptable punishment; But is it acceptable both morally and religiously. In the past, people have invariably felt that if they had been wronged in some way, it was their own right to take it in to his or her own hands and have vengeance on the person that harmed them. The death penalty tie all the way back to biblical times. This mentality still exists today, only in a lesser form we call the judicial system. As a result of the law outlining some persons rights and developing punishments that conform to those rights, and yet allowing the retribution for their crime. However many people today feel that punishments given to criminals for crimes are to lax and easy and that because of this many people may take advantage of them. An example of which is organized crime. Knowing that the punishments for their crime, whether it is murder, theft or any number of criminal activities, will be worth it in the end may cause many to participate in these unlawful acts. Capital punishment creates a consequence that may alter people from committing these unlawful acts. The debate today involves the morality of capital punishment and much of that is coming from the churches and what the bible says about capital punishment. We need to understand the death penalty from a biblical perspective to truly grasp the idea of right and wrong.
I will begin by telling the story of convicted and executed John Wayne Gacy. Each day on death row, Gacy followed the same routine for fourteen years. Illinois has tried to execute him for these many years and finally did do so on May 10, 1994. (Podolasky, March 94 pg. 72). Gacy was convicted for the murder of thirty-three young men and boys that he had lured to his suburban ranch home, offering them jobs, money and or, drugs. After having sex with them he would drug them and proceed to strangling them or hanging them. Later he would bury the bodies in the crawl space of his home. In all twenty-seven bodies were found decomposing under his bathroom floor, the remainder of which were found in a river near his home. Although Gacy originally confessed later he took back his confession in stating that he was too large to fit into the crawl space. Gacy eluded his execution for fourteen years, during which he filed motions continuously to appeal his conviction (Podolasky, March 94 pg. 72). For the families of Gacy’s victims the death was long awaited. In biblical terms an example is God said to Cain, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground” (Gen. 4:10). Justice was to be served quick and painless through lethal injection. Three chemicals were released into his blood stream intravenously. The first would knock him out and the following two would suppress his breathing and stop his heart. This is by far easier than the stoning which would occur in biblical times. The procedure was to take no more than five minutes but due to complications it would take Gacy eighteen minutes. Gacy snorted just before attendants pulled a curtain around him. Gacy had finally been executed…(Seidman, May 94 pg. 52).”Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man” (Gen. 9:5,6). Just as Gacy’s victims deaths were avenged as was Able’s. Is capital punishment so wrong if God himself was to do it not to compare mere human to God But as the scriptures state we were created by him in his own likeness.
Looking back through Gacy’s history a debate for and against capital punishment can be formulated. Gacy followed his same routine for fourteen years while on death row in the same grim confines (Podolasky, March 94 pg. 52). Perhaps this could be one of the most horrifying experiences held to death row inmates. Or Maby it is equal to that of his victims experiences they undergone in their final minutes.
“A moral indictment of the death penalty as a criminal sanction is the inevitability of the intense cruelty it perpetrates on those persons sentenced to be killed. The consequence is the agony of the death row usually keeping the convicted person caged and under the threat of death or anguished of reprieve from one year to more than a decade.” (Wahl, pg. 132)
Imagine for a moment the thoughts and nightmares a death row inmate would experience while awaiting execution. Could this be worse than the execution itself, living each day knowing that it would soon come to an end. In a situation such as this knowing when death will come is possibly worse than not knowing.
On the other side this is a person who has been fully tried and convicted to die, for what reason should society do anything but this. Maybe this itself will help act as a deterrent unlike s in most cases death is the only thing that in the eyes of many people that will account for retribution. I feel the most important reason for this is the idea a segregation. Not only does this remove criminals from the society so they cannot commit violent crimes again but it takes them out of the public eye to prevent a subsequent killing by a upset family member. These criminals do not deserve to be put up in a penthouse sweet during their wait on death row at the cost of the state. Why would we allow a killer to live in Gacy’s case fourteen years in better conditions than they would otherwise. Prison confinement is obviously the only just place for capital offenders to live out until their day . And while the stay on death row for most is meant to be a year or less many take advantage of the appeals system to lengthen their stay; “from a year to more than decade.”
The manner in which capital crimes are committed are gut wrenching violent crimes. In Gacy’s case it was thirty three murders that were all committed in a vile manner. Is there any other punishment that could possibly be worse than capital punishment? If there was it would certainly be mor adequate to serve. One of the basic fundamental objectives behind capital punishment is retribution. The sentencing objective based on the principle of an “eye for an eye”, Which means that what one person has done to another should also be done to that person in return. This dates all the way back to the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) Which required this type of punishment for many transgressions. (Http://www.religioustolerance.org/execute.htm) Is that not justified, especially in the case of premeditated murder of another human being, another life. Punishment should be dealt out equally as the crime or in some cases as in other countries torture this would serve as a much greater deterrent. It threatens with an imposition of a penalty for the commitment of an act considered wrong by society. Also another point to consider is that today in prison, terms are not enough. Many people are allowed out early on parol and or remission resulting in criminals just serving in some cases only one third of their prison terms and being released back into society. This type of quick release cannot adiquitly retribute someone’s death nor deter’s others strongly enough from repeating the same offence that criminals already have. The death penalty makes would be capital offenders think about whether committing a crime is really worth their life.
To opposes of the death penalty no crime is too disgusting, too vile to bring about the execution of a criminal. The argument on defense has been heavily rebutted. On the moral side the Christian scriptures or the New Testament, do not contain new codes of law which govern the death penalty. Obviously citizens, without the death penalty arbor the crime of murder as much as do the people who live where capital punishment is imposed on the convicted murderers. There are other ways to express repugnance against a crime committed other than by inflicting the death penalty. We don’t show our disapproval of rape or theft in a society by committing another rape or theft so why would we feel the need to show disapproval of murder by inflicting another murder in turn. “The fact that murder kills in disregard of the law is too easily rationalized of the capital punishment sanction does not morally sanctize the inhumanity of an officially planned and publicly announced date of the deliberate killing of a person”. (Wahl, pg.74)To many the fifth commandment deems the death penalty wrong however; The Fifth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exo. 20:13 KJV), was not a prohibition any “killing,” including capital punishment it was a prohibition against murder, the slaying of an innocent person by a private individual.
Not only did Gacy commit the murders as found by the justice system but he also admitted his guilt and latter denied it at the point when a murderer feels no shame for his crime and feels no need to admit when he is wrong in committing the crime do we really need to try to rehabilitate these criminals. If the feel they are doing nothing wrong at all aren’t these the most dangerous. As John Mills states in a speech given to Parliament,
“When there has been brought home to anyone conclusive evidence, the greatest crime known to the law; and when the attendant circumstances suggest no palliation of the guilt, no hope that the culprit may even yet not be unworthy to live among man kind, nothing to make it probable that the crime was an exception to his general character rather than a consequence of it, then I confess it appears to me that to deprive the criminal at the life of which he has improved himself to be unworthy-solemnly to blot him out from the fellowship of mankind and the catalogue of the living-is the most appropriate as it is certainly to most impressive, mode in which society can attach so great a crime the penal consequences for which the security of life it is indispensable to annex to it”.(Mill 1868)
For some criminals who show no remorse the death penalty is the only alternative.
While many will say that some people are all bad others will contest that there is some good in every body. While there has been numerous cases of murderers doing there time only to get out and committing the same crime again their are numerous other cases of murderers paying their debts to society and finishing out the rest of their lives as a model citizen. As well as many prisoners who are in for life who turn out to be very useful to the state through the labor prisons.
“Perhaps half of those condemned could make highly useful prisoners. It is a common experience that many long term prisoners settle down to responsible jobs in the prison community.”(Wahl pg.87)
Not all murderers are cold blooded killers many of which could be first time offenders committing a murder in a moment of blind fury and never stopped repenting nor will they.
One of the largest problems with capital punishment is the appeals process. Appeals are meant to protect and innocent man from dieing. But all to often they are used to stall or delay an execution. In the case of John Gacy, he used appeals for fourteen years to delay his death.
As in ancient times few executions ever actually took place because the court procedures required overwhelming evidence of guilt before a person could be executed.(http://www.religioustolerance.org/execute.htm) There are without a doubt numerous chances for a death row inmate to get off and however they are necessary to prevent an innocent man from dieing at the hands of the state. One way this could be remedied is by not offering appeals as readily to prevent this sort of manipulation of the law.
Although with all the safeguards allowed by the law is this enough to prevent the death of an innocent person. The reason for this is that the court system’ “being composed of fallible human beings frequently make mistakes.” (Wahl pg. 79) While the justice system around the death penalty needs improvement, by no means should we stop punishing criminals for the crimes which they commit.
Another important factor we must look at concerning capital punishment is the formation of vigilant groups composed of angry friends and family members of a victim. As stated in Time, “For the families of John Wayne Gacy’s victims, his death was long anticipated.” (Seidman, May, 94 pg. 52) If Gacy’s execution had not occurred who is to say that one of these family members who’s thoughts being blurred by the emotional stress of the trial would not try to take justice into his own hands. There are many instances known in the past as well as currently in which people have tried to take justice into their own hands. One of these was the assassination of President John F Kennedy who was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald and latter Oswald too was shot by jack Ruby an angry citizen seeking vengeance for the assassination of the president. To put it simple capital punishment is needed to prevent an outraged society from wreaking vengeance on capital offenders. Our conclusion is this ;for all societies of people since the beginning of time, there has been a principle of justice that some crimes are so serious they can be properly punished only by death.
Podolsky, J.D. March 16, 1994, Dayof Reckoning, People pg. 71-72
Religious Tolorance Organization. [Online]. Available:
http://www.religioustolerance.org/ecute.htm/ [1999, Feb. 27].
Seideman, David. May 23,1994, A Twist Before Dieing, Time pg. 52
Wahl, Phil B. 1991 Capital Punishment: Questions and Answers Duncan, Oklahoma