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According to Wikepedia, capital punishment or the death penalty is the sentence of death upon a person by judicial process as a punishment for an offence. Crimes that can result in a death penalty are known as capital crimes or capital offences. Capital punishment has in the past been practiced by a number of societies including the United States of America. Although many nations have abolished capital punishment, over 60% of the world’s population live in countries where executions take place; the People’s Republic of China, India, the United State of America and Indonesia, the four most populated countries, continue to apply the death penalty (although it is rarely used in India and Indonesia).
Michigan was the first state to ban the death penalty on May 18, 1846. As of March 9, 2011, 16 states and the District of Columbia ban capital punishment, with Illinois the most recent state to ban the practice. According to a 2010 Gallup poll, 64% of Americans support the death penalty for someone convicted of murder. Of the states where the death penalty is permitted, California has the largest number of inmates on death row while Texas has been the most active in carrying out executions. In recent times, approximately one third of all executions take place in Texas.
After a hearing on September 19, 2011, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles denied clemency to Troy Davis that resulted in his execution on September 21, despite presentation of testimony casting doubt on his guilt. Davis’ claims of innocence received international attention and calls for clemency were made by Pope Benedict XVI, former President Jimmy Carter, former FBI Director William Sessions, former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Norman Fletcher and others. Doubts about Davis’ guilt were raised when some prosecution witnesses changed their stories after giving testimony against Davis, including accusations pointing to another suspect as the murderer of Mark MacPhail, a police officer in Savannah. Davis was executed “solely” on the basis of eye witness testimony. There was no physical or DNA evidence presented and the gun was never located.
The Bible seems to support the church’s affirmance of the right of the civil magistrate in matters of capital justice, but there is significant opposition to the death penalty among those professing Christian faith. What is interesting to me, however, is that many Republicans seem to support and applaud the death penalty. This was apparent at a recent Republican Presidential Debate when Rick Perry responded to a question concerning the 235 people who were executed under his watch in Texas. Perry’s comments drew large applause from the audience as though there were excited about the taking of a life. Ironically, most Republicans take the opposite view on abortion. Regardless of the circumstances, both involve the taking of a life yet both are permitted under Supreme Court rulings. Are some lives more important than others?
Christian supporters of capital punishment appear to rely on Old Testament scripture where God first initiated the idea of capital punishment. For example, Genesis 9:5-6 states: “And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” In addition, Leviticus 24:17-22: “And he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death; And he that killeth a beast shall make it good; beast for beast;.And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbour; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him; Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again; And he that killeth a beast, he shall restore it: and he that killeth a man, he shall be put to death; Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for one of your own country”
The New Testament does not have any specific teachings about capital punishment. However, the Old Testament ideas of punishment became secondary to Jesus’ message of love and redemption. Jesus said His mission was not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17-20). Christians are bound by Jesus’ commands to “Love the Lord your God” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” In fact, Jesus flatly rejected the Old Testament principle of taking equal revenge for a wrong done (Matthew 5:38-41, Luke 9:52-56). He also said that we are all sinners and do not have the right to pass judgment on one another (Matthew 7:1-5). In the case of a woman caught in adultery, a capital offense, Jesus said to those who wanted to stone her to death, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7-11) The apostle Paul also warned against taking revenge for a wrong done (Romans 12:17-21, 1 Thessalonians 5:15. The apostle Peter warned us not to repay evil with evil (1 Peter 3-9).
It seems to me that life in prison with no possibility of parole is a better way of punishing capital crime offenders because it reminds them every day why they were there. Are there situations where capital punishment is indicated? Perhaps, but it seems to me that to invoke capital punishment, the state should be required to satisfy their burden of proof by presenting specific evidence including DNA. Remember, all the defense has to do is to create “reasonable doubt.” From all that I have read, there was “reasonable doubt” in the Troy Davis case and the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles should have granted clemency at least to explore the validity of the new evidence, but that’s just my take.
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