Thoughts on the Death Penalty...

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The execution of Tookie Williams brings certain thoughts about the death penalty into relief.

First, justice delayed is justice denied--for victims, society, and the guilty. If we are to continue prolonging death penalty appeals for decades, perhaps we should have no death penalty at all. The risk of executing the innocent weighs against precipitous haste in executing. But to execute a man 26 years after the crime does no one any good. Certainly, it's just half a death penalty when a man lives 26 years under sentence of death before execution.

Half a death penalty is incommensurate with the loss sustained by the victim (as the biblical standard, life for life, requires). Appeals must run their course but when that course takes 26 years we undermine the legitimacy of the punishment by divorcing it from the crime. There's an undeniable element of capriciousness to an execution 26 years after the crime--especially when the criminal has been in custody the whole time.

Second, Roman Catholic insistence on tying the death penalty to abortion in a "seamless cloth" approach to life issues leads to some pretty stupid, even godless, statements by the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

So, when Cardinal Renato Martino tells AP television news, "Even a criminal is worthy of respect because he is a human being. The death penalty is a negation of human dignity," we find ourselves in the astonishing and ridiculous position of charging God who gave man dignity by creating him in His image with "negating human dignity" by providing the penalty of death in His law.

Third, and finally, the case of Cory Maye is one in which even those who support the death penalty might be glad that the death penalty isn't immediately enacted. There may be more to the story than we're hearing from the blogs at this point, but what we're hearing sounds like a travesty of justice. Cory Maye is a black man under sentence of death for shooting a white policeman. But it's not the easy story you might think. The white policeman was executing a post-midnight no-knock search warrant as part of a SWAT team. Bursting into Maye's apartment without notice, gun drawn, the policeman was shot and killed by Maye who grabbed a gun and ran into his daughter's bedroom at the sound of intruders.

The policeman was son of a local police chief. The next day police said they found traces of drugs in Maye's duplex. At the time of the shooting they found none. Maye had no previous criminal record.

I think any logical person would rather be white than black in this situation. We'd rather live somewhere north of Mississippi. And we'd not want the police coming back again the next day to search for drugs after finding none the night before.