Death Penalty

The Myth of Redemptive Violence

Stop the violence illustration, background Eky Studio / Shutterstock.com
Stop the violence illustration, background Eky Studio / Shutterstock.com

I had a veteran friend once tell me, “The biggest lie I have ever been told is that violence is evil, except in war.”  He went on, “My government told me that.  My Church told me that.  My family told me that. … I came back from war and told them the truth—‘Violence is not evil, except in war… Violence is evil – period.’” 

Every day it seems like we are bombarded with news stories of violence—a shooting in Colorado, a bus bombing in Bulgaria, drones gone bad and the threat of a nuclear Iran, a civil war in Syria, explosions in Afghanistan and Iraq.  

The recent cover story of Time magazine was "One a Day," showing that soldier suicides are up to one per day, surpassing the number of soldiers who die in combat. The U.S. military budget is still rising—more than $20,000 a second, more than $1 million a minute, spent on war even as the country goes bankrupt.  

Our world is filled with violence—like a plague, an infection, a pandemic of people killing people, and people killing themselves. In my city of brotherly love, Philadelphia, we have nearly one homicide a day—and in this land of the free we have more than 10,000 homicides per year.  

This week President Barack Obama called the shooting in Colorado “evil.” And he is right.  

But perhaps it is also time that we declare that violence is evil, everywhere—period.  It’s obvious that killing folks in a movie theater is sick and deranged, but the question arises: is violence ever okay?

Cruel and Unusual: Georgia Set to Execute Mentally Disabled Man

Warren Hill. Image via the Georgia Department of Corrections.
Warren Hill. Image via the Georgia Department of Corrections.

Despite protests not only from jurors who conivicted him but also from his victim’s family, Warren Hill, a 52-year-old mentally disabled man convicted of murder, is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on July 23 in Jackson, Ga.

In 1991, a jury found Hill guilty in the bludgeoning to death a fellow inmate, Joseph Handspike, and sentenced him to death. Hill had been serving a life sentence for the 1986 killing of his girlfriend at the time of Handspike's death.

Hill has an I.Q. of about 70, leading a state judge to find him "mentally retarded" by a “preponderance of the evidence.”

While Georgia — as the rest of the United States — has banned the execution of mentally retarded inmates, the state has a stricter standard that requires proving mental retardation “beyond a reasonable doubt.” By that standard, the Georgia Supreme Court overruled the judge's finding of mental retardation, reversed the decision, and reinstated Hill’s death sentence, which originally had been set for today.

Shifts Seen in Support for Death Penalty

Protesters at a Anti-Death Penalty Rally, Robert J. Daveant / Shutterstock.com
Protesters at a Anti-Death Penalty Rally, Robert J. Daveant / Shutterstock.com

The campaign to abolish the death penalty has been freshly invigorated this month in a series of actions that supporters say represents increasing evidence that America may be losing its taste for capital punishment.

As early as this week, Gov. Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, is poised to sign a bill repealing the death penalty in Connecticut. A separate proposal has qualified for the November ballot in California that would shut down the largest death row in the country and convert inmates' sentences to life without parole.

Academics, too, have recently taken indirect aim: The National Research Council concluded last week that there have been no reliable studies to show that capital punishment is a deterrent to homicide.

Marcus Robinson Spared Death Row Because of Racial Bias

Shawn Rocco/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT via Getty Images
Marcus Robinson awaiting the judge's ruling. Shawn Rocco/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT via Getty Images

North Carolina's Racial Justice Act was just a piece of legislation until this morning, when Judge Gregory Weeks set aside a death penalty sentence that had been meted out to Marcus Robinson in 1994.

At issue this morning was not whether Robinson was guilty of first-degree murder. At issue was whether “racial bias” had prevented the “fair and reliable imposition of the death penalty in North Carolina.” 

Judge Weeks found that racism was indeed at work in Robinson’s sentencing. There is, Weeks said, “considerable evidence of the continuing effects of racial prejudice in the application of the death penalty.” Specifically, Weeks found that racism guided the selection of Robinson’s jury, thus compromising Robinson’s right to trial by impartial jury. In accordance with the Racial Justice Act, Robinson will now serve a term of life imprisonment without parole.

Study: No Evidence That Death Penalty Deters Crime

In the more than three decades since the national moratorium on the death penalty was lifted, there is no reliable research to determine whether capital punishment has served as a deterrent, according to a review by the National Research Council.

The review, partially funded by the Justice Department's National Institute of Justice, found that one of the major shortcomings in all previous studies has included "incomplete or implausible" measures of how potential murderers perceive the risk of execution as a possible consequence of their actions.

Another flaw, according to the review, is that previous research never considered the impact of lesser punishments, such as life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Q Conference: Restoring the Justice System

Photo via Wiki Commons (http://bit.ly/IqqTaf)
Bryan Stevenson delivering a TED talk in California last month. Photo via Wiki Commons (http://bit.ly/IqqTaf)

 

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world with 23 million behind bars. Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative, speaking from the Q Conference on Wedensday, said this high rate is inextricably tied to poverty, age, mental illness and race.

“In this country, the opposite of poverty is not wealth. The opposite of poverty is justice,” said Stevenson, a law professor at the New York University school of Law. “If we’re going to be concerned about ending poverty, we must be concerned about justice.”

The Innocence List

WHILE JUAN ROBERTO Meléndez sat on Florida’s death row, his mother, back in Puerto Rico, built an altar in her home where she placed a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe. She prayed three rosaries a day for his release and wrote letters to her son assuring him that God knew of his innocence. If Juan would put his trust in God, eventually he would be freed.

“I believed her,” Meléndez says. “But I also told him later, ‘It took you too long, God.’”

It took 17 years, eight months, and one day.

It took considerably less time to send him to death row. Meléndez, a migrant fruit picker, was arrested in Pennsylvania in May 1984, charged with the killing of a man in Florida, where he had previously lived. Meléndez, who spoke very little English, was appointed a public defender but not a translator.

“He kept patting me on the back and saying everything’s going to be okay,” Meléndez recalls.

In one week’s time he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death, with no physical evidence presented against him. The conviction rested on the testimony of two questionable witnesses—a police informant with a criminal record and a co-defendant who was threatened with the electric chair but who ultimately received a sentence of two years’ probation after he testified against Meléndez. The jury contained 11 white members and one African American.

Meléndez was sent to death row on a November Tuesday in 1984, “an ugly, ugly day.” On Thursday, guards took a man to be executed. “I got real scared then, thought they killed someone every week. I wondered: How long until they come for me?”

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Uganda Revives Anti-Gay Bill

Man holding Bible speaks during anti-homosexuality rally in Kamapala, Uganda
Man holding Bible speaks during anti-homosexuality rally in Kamapala, Uganda 2/14/10. Photo by AFP/Getty Images.

CORRECTION: After our original post ran yesterday, we learned that there has been some confusion over the language of the current proposed language of the Ugandan anti-gay bill. In fact, the death penalty has not yet been dropped from the text of the bill.

According to news reports, a Ugandan Member of Parliament has introduced a revised bill that is expected to be acted on within a few days.

The Morning News: Monday, Dec. 5, 2011

Democrats See Opening To Attract Religious Voters In 2012 Election; Does Inequality Matter?; From Occupy To Progressive Renewal: Demanding The Just Society; Occupy Movement A Reminder Of What We Value; The Annual 'War On Christmas' Shows How A Faith That Once United America Now Divides It; Religious Leaders Target Repeal Of N.C. Death Penalty Law; Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church: Kentucky Congregation Overturns Ban On Interracial Couples.

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