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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A little late, but...

Almost everyone I know was talking about the impending execution of Stanley Tookie Williams, that took place last night.

My feelings on the matter are a little mixed. In general, in theory, I am opposed to the death penalty. I agree with what the Catechism says on the death penalty:
2267 Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically non-existent."

Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 2267

Hence, I don't really think most people, even murderers ought to be executed. However, the law, and the majority public opinion in this country we live in, states that certain crimes are to be punished by death, and Williams committed such a crime. He was found guilty and sentenced, and exhausted all avenues of appeal. No judge or jury authorized to make the decision has felt that he ought not to be executed.

In addition, the reasons proposed for why he ought to be granted clemency did not at all pertain to his guilt or innocence, or even reference the nature of his crime. Rather they centered around his supposed redemption of himself by good actions done while he's been in prison. And certainly, people can change and redeem themselves in prison. Especially in the case of people sentenced to death, I would hope and pray that they all redeem themselves before they die.

However, I am not sure that this redemption ought to be ever considered as grounds to overturn a judge/jury decision as to the sentence a convicted criminal deserves. The judge/jury were the people given the authority to decide the penalty for the crime; their decision should not be overturned unless there is exceptional reason to do so. Any post-conviction / pre-execution conversion should be welcomed for the spiritual benefits it brings to the criminal - hopefully, none of us is uncharitable enough to hope that even the worst convicted criminal is sentenced not just to death but to Hell for his actions. Rather, we hope that even the worst criminal repents, and seeks forgiveness for his crimes, if not from his victims, at least from God, who does forgive any truly repentant sinner.

However, the basis of redemption is remorse for your crimes. And Williams never admitted his guilt, and hence never expressed remorse or apologized to the families of his victims. And this makes me wonder about how real his so-called redemption was. It seems more and more likely that the 'redemption' argument was just another tactic in order to avoid being executed, since at the same time he was also arguing that he was wrongfully convicted, that his conviction was racially motivated, that the death penalty system in California is fundamentally flawed, etc.

All in all, I still feel that no one ought to be executed in this country, because we can effectively protect society from criminals without resorting to the death penalty. However, as long as people continue to be executed, I think the punishment ought to be applied uniformly. People ought not to be granted clemency merely because they have managed to get the attention of one or more celebrities. I don't think Willims deserved clemency any more than any of the other people on death row, and I think his execution was as just as any other.


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