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Thursday, 26 March 2009 15:56

A Conversation on the Death Penalty

Written by Rudy Cypser
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Rudy and Betty Cypser developed the following conversation as a way to look at the issue of the death penalty. Rudy and Betty have been very active in criminal justice reform and have a website at http://users.bestweb.net/~cureny/.


Tom: I don’t see why Affiliates should be concerned about the death penalty. That’s of no concern of ours.


Dick: Well, I like to ask, “Would Jesus care?” Would he?

Tom: No. He taught justice. Remember, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice; for they will be satisfied.” And the death penalty metes out justice for terrible crimes.

Dick: But isn’t that only part of the teaching? Wouldn’t you agree that he also taught compassion, kindness, tolerance, healing, forgiveness, and peace? How does the death penalty fit with that?

Harry:  It doesn’t. But you forgot all the emphasis on things like “Love your enemy;” and “Do good to those who hate you.” Are you going to tell me I should love a killer?

Dick: It is a stretch; but that’s what he said. He always was a healer, not  destroyer. Maybe it’s not the crime we have compassion for, but the person. Aren’t we told that there’s a spark of God deep within everyone?  Anyway, I’m not against punishment; it’s just taking a life that bothers me.

Tom: Why should it? That life isn’t worth anything.

Harry: Just a minute. I guess that Jesus wouldn’t have said “Forgive seventy times seven times” if he didn’t believe there was some value – some hope for that other.  I say nobody – well, almost nobody is completely hopeless, without some possibility of personal growth and redemption.

Dick: And with death there’s no further chance.

Tom: I don’t care. I just want justice.

Harry: Ho Ho.  It’s justice you want? Do you know that over 130 death-row  convicts had their wrongful convictions overturned by belated DNA tests? And how many others were wrongfully convicted but didn’t have a team of lawyers and DNA tests to help them?  How many innocent people have we murdered?  Are you willing to live with that?

Dick: Tom, did you also know that the whole justice system can be racially biased?  I read that a study of the death penalty in North Carolina found that the odds of receiving a death sentence rose by 3.5 times among those defendants whose victims were white? Overall, only 15 whites were executed for killing a black person, but 235 blacks were executed for killing a white person. Does that sound like justice?

Tom: That’s terrible! But we must not be soft on crime. The death penalty still prevents more crimes, doesn’t it?

Harry:  Guess not. I’ve seen a survey of the former and present presidents of the country's top academic criminological societies; 84% of these experts rejected the notion that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder. And, though the South accounts for over 80% of executions, the South had the highest murder rate.

Tom: Hey, maybe you guys have something. Still, we’re probably better off financially to just kill a guy, and get It over with, rather than paying to lock him up for life. Right?

Dick:  No sale there either. Lots of studies say otherwise. The most comprehensive study in the country found that the death penalty costs North Carolina $2.16 million per execution over the costs of sentencing murderers to life imprisonment.

Martha: You all haven’t mentioned the fact that most developed nations have already prohibited the death penalty. I like the way it’s put in the Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights: “Application of the death penalty has irrevocable consequences, forecloses the correction of judicial error, and precludes any possibility of changing or rehabilitating those convicted.” That possibility of change seems to me to be at the heart of the Christian message.

Tom: You know, maybe Jesus’ way makes awfully good sense. Deep down, when it’s all said, I’ve usually felt better listening to him.

Harry: It’s really interesting that going his way usually is best for me, in the long run, too.

Tom: Let’s talk about this at the next Affiliate meeting. More folks should know the facts, and think about which way is best.

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