Friday, September 28, 2007

One saved, one dies in Texas

Carlton Turner gave glory to God when his life was saved yesterday. Michael Richard, however, didn't make it.

According to an article here the U. S. Supreme Court yesterday halted the execution of the 28-year old Turner less than two hours before he was scheduled to die in Texas by lethal injection. On Tuesday the high court agreed to hear a case on the constitutionality of executions by lethal injection. Turner's lawyers tied an appeal to that case and a last minute stay was issued.

On the other hand the same report says Michael Richard died in Texas by lethal injection on Tuesday just a few hours after the Supreme Court decision to hear a case on the constitutional merits lethal injections. His lawyers attributed the rejection of their appeal to the short time frame in which they had to prepare it before the scheduled execution.

So, on Tuesday, Michael Richard died by lethal injection a few hours after the Supreme Court decided to review the constitutionality of the practice. On the other hand, on Thursday, the life of young Carlton Turner was saved pending that same review. Carlton Turner is rejoicing; Michael Richard is dead.

I don't know Michael Richard but if there is anybody out there who cares about him this must be a very bad day for them. I cannot imagine what it must be like to get word that another man was saved under circumstances identical to those under which a loved one died two days earlier. Richard was pronounced dead at 8:23 p.m. on Tuesday. If his execution had been slated for just a few hours later, would that have granted enough time for the lawyers to put together the same sort of appeal that saved Turner? What must it be like for the family members of Michael Richard to know how close he was to living at least a little longer? But alas "we the people" decided to go ahead and kill him.

The crimes of which these two murderers were convicted are heinous. Turner, at age 19, shot and killed both of his parents, dragged their bodies into the garage, and threw a party for the weekend. Richard raped and shot dead Marguerite Lucille Dixon, a 53-year-old nurse and mother of seven. For such utterly despicable acts these men deserve to be punished severely.

I am convinced that life imprisonment would be a sentence more in keeping with biblical principles than execution. Yes, the Bible does allow for capital punishment, but the accounts of Cain, Moses, and David teach us that the scriptures do not require the death penalty for murder. The Bible also allows for slavery, yet the principles of the new Testament are credited with thankfully ending that institution in this country. The principles of the New Testament can and should do the same for the death penalty.

Romans 1:16 tells us that the gospel is "the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes" (TNIV). The power of God is powerful enough to transform anyone, even murderers, but not if we give them lethal injections first. We can protect society from the likes of Carlton Turner and Michael Richard short of killing them. Because life is precious and because the gospel, the power of God, can transform anyone we must put murderers in prison for life rather than executing them.

"Life for life" is the principle given in Deuteronomy 19:21 and several other passages. The state can embody this principle in its laws by taking the lives of murderers through life imprisonment. Indeed, taking the lives of murderers through life imprisonment is true to the "life for life" principle while upholding the crucial scriptural principle of the sanctity of human life.

Study after study has shown that capital punishment has no deterrent effect on crime. Moral questions should not be decided based on money, but if we were to factor in dollars and cents, the death penalty costs more than life imprisonment. Capital cases, with the mandatory appeal process, are very expensive. We can't do away with the expensive appeals process, because we will run the risk of executing an innocent person as we almost did here in North Carolina in the case of Alan Gell.

Come to think of it, from neither a biblical perspective nor a practical perspective can I come up with any decent argument to continue the death penalty.

Carlton Turner got a last minute reprieve and Michael Richard didn't because "we the people" can't figure out what to do about the death penalty. Would that "we the people" settled the question by taking the lives of murderers through life imprisonment thus giving the power of God every opportunity to do its transforming work while at the same time protecting society from killers.

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