Wednesday, August 26, 2009

a matter of life and death

Capital punishment has been the main topic of discussion in Knoxville recently. The first of the trials of the accused killers of Channon Christian and Chris Newsom concluded today. The disgusting, horrific crimes have grabbed the attention of East Tennesseeans to such a degree that jurors had to be selected from the Nashville area. Letalvis Cobbins was eligible for the death penalty after being convicted of first degree murder. The jury sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Social networks are buzzing with news updates and opinions on the trial. I couldn't help but notice that many of my Facebook friends were very vocal about their desire to see Cobbins sentenced to death. On more mundane political issues, I usually agree with their views. However I was moved to post the following status update: "My unpopular opinion: glad for the guilty verdicts for Cobbins but still opposed to the death penalty. My FB friends want an execution."

I found out that not all my Facebook friends support capital punishment. While the jury was deliberating the sentence, I received several great comments from both points of view that are worth reading now and re-reading as each of the other defendants face their juries. I will refer to the author of each comment by first initial only. However if any of them contact me and ask that their names be used, I will happily revise the post to identify them.
A: The death penalty is not something to be taken lightly. I don't side with you on this one (well, glad for the guilty verdicts), but I can respect anyone with a different opinion on an execution. That's a touchy subject.

R: The government can't manage to run a car buy back program effectively. Why on earth should we trust them with the power of life and death?

N: The Government does not have the "power" to execute this trash, the jury and judge do. And they are us.
Frank, look at it from another angle, with children and good people going hungry, why waste the thousands upon thousands of dollars, housing this animal? Compassion is not "babysitting" this animal for the next 50 to 60 years, it is taking that needed energy and money and helping victims of them.

J: If a person commits a crime and is caught and convicted they forfeit their liberty. If the crime is truly horrific they forfeit their life. The state may be the instrument of their death but the responsibility lies with the perpetrator of the crime. That's how I see it and I think this crime certainly qualifies for the death penalty.

S: Count me among the FB friends that do NOT want an execution. Do you have a link for the back story on Cobbins? I don't know the case.

Frank: The details of this horrific case will turn your stomach.

R: Do judges and juries get things wrong? Do prosecutors engage in misconduct? Are cases pushed or dropped for political reasons? If the answer to any of these questions is "Yes," then our criminal justice system does not perform to the standard required to allow it to take a life.

N: No, the judge and jury did not get THIS case wrong!

T: Well, the problem with your argument is that it costs far more to exhaust the appeals process than to simply house a convict. Also, it's disingenuous to not recognize the jury and the judge are merely arms of the state.
The US Constitution, however, clearly contemplates the death the penalty ("no person shall be deprived of life ...."). Of course, the US Constitution is a floor, not a ceiling, so each state can decide the issue. Still, the death penalty is an ancient and barbaric practice that provides no deterrence and should be abolished.

S: No offense to N, I don't know you.... But one of the fundamental flaws with humanity is the ability to allow a desire for revenge to cloud judgment. If you didn't sit on the jury and hear all of the evidence in the case, you are making an opinion based judgment rather than a fact based judgment. While he hasn't stated such as yet, I would guess that Frank's opposition to the DP is that only God can truly judge the actions of man. Only God has all the facts and only God can claim the right to judge who should live or die.

R: I supported the death penalty for a long time. I reasoned that if I'm willing to take a life in order to defend my own, then the state should be allowed to do the same, take a life to defend the group.
Then I realized that was a flawed comparison. For example, I have the right to use lethal force to defend myself when attacked, or to defend another who is being attacked. I don't have the right to kill somebody because they attacked me yesterday, or might attack somebody tomorrow. And if I don't have the right, then why should I give it to the state?
Particularly when the state has not demonstrated the level of competence required to handle such an imposing responsibility.

N: Disingenuous? Lets read the rest of the sentence together. "No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of the law". Also, Sometimes the appeals process is used to stop justice from being completed.
S, I am sorry that you think justice is revenge. I assume that like me you are not on this jury, correct? Then your opinion is also not a fact based judgment? That is why it is called a discussion. God? God did not take Channon's life, this man did.
I am not arrogant enough to suggest what Frank believes, I merely suggested another view. Frank is a good friend and I will stand by him.
What is breaking my heart is that there is more disdain for me in my beliefs than the monster that committed this unparalleled crime.
I must now go back to work so I can help feed this trash for the next 20 to 60 years, so I will be unable and unwilling to comment any further, so say what you will.

AB: The only reason I oppose the death penalty is because we cannot guarantee that no innocent life will be lost. As soon as one innocent person is killed, the whole system has/is failed.

S: I didn't say that justice was revenge. I said that the desire for revenge can cloud judgment (clear reasoning). I also didn't make a statement about the outcome of the case, you did. My point was that people who aren't involved intimately with the case don't have enough information to say if the defendant is guilty or innocent. Your statement that the jury didn't make a mistake was an overstatement because you didn't have the same information as they did.
As for Frank, I was merely extrapolating on his previously expressed Catholicism. I would never say that I spoke on his behalf. I was just pointing out that for some people (like PERHAPS Frank) this is a religious issue and should be respected as such.

T: The purpose of the appeals process is to, hopefully, ensure that the law, including procedural issues, is followed and applied correctly. You either agree to adhere to our civil liberties or you don't. I'm unclear why your being pissy with me. While I disagree with the death penalty, clearly, the US Constitution contemplates that someone can be put to death. What you were being disingenuous about was saying the "government can't put someone to death." Of course, the government -- more appropriately the State -- can put someone to death. The Constitution says so.

L: With the exception of self-defense or defense of another, it is not the province of man to mete out decisions of life or death. That said, I think those that perpetrated the horrific torture on those two kids deserve to have the same treatment done to them. But it is not our place to make it so.

Frank: I appreciate and respect all your comments, on both sides of the issue. Obviously my Catholicism is a big factor in my opposition to the death penalty. To me, capital punishment is the Old Testament way of thinking.
However, I used to feel differently. It changed when Ted Bundy was executed. I got a sick feeling in my stomach and realized that his death would do nothing to bring back the victims he killed.
The arguments about the cost of death row legal appeals and the possibility of executing even one innocent man are powerful to me. Ultimately I think killing is wrong, whether done by a criminal or by the government or by a doctor.

AB: The Catholic Church does not consider the death penalty to be intrinsically evil, nor limited to any particular era or dispensation. However, it does not support the death penalty in a society that has other means to effectively suppress the offender. So according to the Church, it isn't a proper option in the vast majority of cases, if not all cases, in the western world.

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Anonymous LissaKay said...

You stick to your beliefs, Frank, and hold your head high for doing so, no matter who disagrees with you. True friends, grown up and mature people will remain your friends despite differences of opinion - which is quite unlike what happened in the local "mommyblogger" community when I let my pro-life views be known, and refused to shut up when those "ladies" tried to shout me down. If they turn on you, they aren't worth having as friends anyway.

Blogger Kim said...

I believe that on this earth that there is good and evil. I also belive that God gave us free will to be able to pick and choose which path we take. While some choose the right path, others do not and there are consequences to those decisions. Unfortunately in this case 2 innocent people have lost their lives because of decisions that were made and were beyond their control. I feel so badly for Channon and Chris's family and would not wish their grief and pain on anyone. While, they did not get the punishment they wanted, in the end God will judge the offenders accordingly. In the end that will be the true justice and will be something that cannot be just wiped away with a tear. That judgement will be swift and it will be absolute no matter what the past holds. But the same can and will be said for everyone else. God judges us on what we do as individuals not as a group. While I am thankful that the offender will be unable to commit these crimes ever again. I do wish that they would bring back the practice of the prisoners doing work all day.

Thanks Frank, for letting me have my say. Without confrontation and hopefully with same respect that you have stated yours.

Blogger dudleysharp said...

Beliefs are one things.

Beliefs rooted in facts are another.

"The Death Penalty: More Protection for Innocents"

Cost Savings: The Death Penalty

The Death Penalty: Neither Hatred nor Revenge

Death Penalty Support: Modern Catholic Scholars

Blogger Heather Allen said...

Thank you for this post. I went to high school with Chris. I too do not believe in the death penalty. Even though this crime was horrific, we can not decide how long a person should live. It's all in God's time. I wonder how the people who wanted the death penalty feel about abortion. It is the same thing.

Anonymous KC said...

Frank, please educate your one friend "N" that it is more expensive to execute someone than it is to keep them in prison for life. With all of the necessary appeals, and the fact that they'll be on death row for 20+ adds up to be more than just housing them forever.

Anonymous K. said...

Sorry, but I believe the idea that murderers shouldn't be executed because "God will make everything better in the end" is irresponsible. What if there isn't a god or afterlife? What then?

If the murderer is executed and there is a god, we can assume he will face justice. If the murderer is executed and there is no god, he has still faced justice, because he has suffered the same fate he wrongly forced upon his victim. In either case, he has been punished for his crime.

However, if he is not executed and allowed to live out his natural lifespan, we can only hope there is some sort of justice in the afterlife. It may be possible that he will escape justice, if there is nothing after death.

Are you willing to take that gamble? Maybe, but I am not willing to just sit around and "hope" everything will work out in the end. If someone is found a guilty of a crime, they need to be punished as soon as possible. Lighter sentences for heinous crimes and activism for criminal rights have turned the American "justice" system into a joke.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Frank, I agree with you. I was raised in a very conservative Baptist Family with very Right Wing views. I am a pretty steady conservative on everything except the death penalty and my family can never appreciate my view! Being 19 I am still placed in the "he will grow out of it phase" whenever i disagree with my family. I base my beliefs against capitol punishment on three things. 1. Facts- it does not deter crime in any way because when a person commits a crime they don't pause mid-murder to think..."oh wait, i can get punished for this"...killers just kill regardless and consequences are the furthest thing from their mind at the time they murder. Also it actually costs our system more due to: supplies used to kill, arrangements made to pay staff and doctors to be on site, cost of disposal, etc...and that's IF the person doesn't strain our court system's funds by appeals and continued trials.
Number 2. If indeed it did deter criminals...murder is still a barbaric way to deal with criminals. We should focus our efforts on making prison actual prison as opposed to just putting people to death to satisfy the greedy and vengeful nature of our society's soul. "Why do we kill people who kill people to show people that killing people is wrong?"
and Number 3. Ethics+Faith! This is the big one for me. We are not God therefor we should not decide the fate of an individual. We are not given right to cast people into eternity just because our corrupt laws permit it.I am pro-life before and after birth! Ask yourself this: If Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, was to encounter a murderer on the street...would Christ place his hands on their shoulders and show them Love, Mercy, and Grace? or wud he strap them to a chair, flip the switch, and yell "lets light'em up!" It's obvious that he wud not murder them. I think that we, as Christians, have the responsibility to share God's love with everyone! not just the people outside of prison's walls. When we sentence a person to death, we automatically send them to hell and eliminate any possibility of them witnessing God's saving grace if they have not yet done so. Have we forgotten our mission here is to serve God and not our own selfish desire for "justice"? I personally think so. Thank You for your public voice on your blog in opposition. Maybe someday our society can focus on reflecting Christ's love in all aspects of life.

Greg Fernatt Jr,


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