Is Capital Punishment Justice

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My opposition to capital punishment is no secret.  In September of 2010 I wrote an essay Orthodoxy and Capital Punishment, where I presented my argument from a Scriptural as well as a theological standpoint for why the continued use of capital punishment is wrong.  I quoted Jesus own words from the 5th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist one who is evil… love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

I quoted from a document published by the Greek Archdiocese here in America:

“With more information available to us today about the consequences of capital punishment, many Christians are of the opinion that it no longer serves as a deterrent to crime. Statistics of the United States show that the existence of capital punishment in some states and its absence in other states seems to have no measurable effect on the rate of various capital crimes. For a long time now, persons accused of capital crimes who can afford the legal expertise nearly always escape capital punishment. Generally speaking, only the weak, the poor, the friendless have been executed in most recent years.”

And I was taken to task by many Orthodox clergy one who even referred to my essay as juvenile and emotional.  Well, the taking of a life should be emotional and if we do not feel something whenever a life is taken then perhaps we need to take a hard look at ourselves.  I have said it before, and I will continue to say it, the taking of a life is wrong.

With the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev concluded the case now moves to the penalty phase and the government of the United States is asking that he be put to death for his crimes.  Long ago, the people of Massachusetts repealed this form of punishment but the federal government still allows the killing of its citizens for their crimes.  A recent poll suggests that 53% of Americans agree that he should be killed, but 58% of Bostonians, where the crime took place, oppose such a punishment.

Martin Richards was eight years old when he stood on the street to watch the end of the Boston Marathon.  Martin was one of those killed by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother.  In a recent editorial in the Boston Globe Martin’s parent, Denise and Bill wrote a passionate plea against the death penalty in the case.

We understand all too well the heinousness and brutality of the crimes committed. We were there. We lived it. The defendant murdered our 8-year-old son, maimed our 7-year-old daughter, and stole part of our soul. We know that the government has its reasons for seeking the death penalty, but the continued pursuit of that punishment could bring years of appeals and prolong reliving the most painful day of our lives. We hope our two remaining children do not have to grow up with the lingering, painful reminder of what the defendant took from them, which years of appeals would undoubtedly bring.

Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes, who both lost limbs on that same day, said in a recent interview in the Boston Globe, “If there is anyone who deserves the ultimate punishment, it is the defendant. However, we must overcome the impulse for vengeance.”  Vengeance, a very strong word.

We all want justice for the families and ourselves.  Those of us from Massachusetts had been affected by the events of that day and will probably remember where we were on that April 15th when the bombs went off.  We want justice for Martin, Krystle, Lingzi, and Sean but will a prolonged appeal bring justice for their families?  Will a prolonged appeal bring them any peace? To quote again from the Richards, “but the continued pursuit of that punishment could bring years of appeals and prolong reliving the most painful day of our lives.”

Capital punishment is indeed a very emotional issue and one that will affect all of us for years to come.  The intense physical and psychological suffering endured by the families of those killed and those injured will never come to an end no matter what happens.  This type of trauma leaves deep scars that never fully heal.

I believe the best outcome would be for a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, as long as it is truly without parole.  Killing him will make him a martyr and will not bring any healing to the community.  Let’s listen to the voices of the families and understand their pain and their desire to see this come to some kind of end for them.  Let us not prolong their pain any longer.