Clayton Locket was a Murderer. I Am Not.

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Oklahoma managed to execute a prisoner this week, but we did it in the most ungainly fashion possible.

Make no mistake about it, Mr Clayton Locket is dead, and the reason why is that he was executed on Tuesday night of this week by the people of the State of Oklahoma. Also and again, make no mistake about it, in the parlance of the death penalty debate, Mr Clayton Locket “deserved” to die.

He was a cold-blooded killer and a mad dog prisoner who evidently never showed a moment’s remorse in all the years since he shot 19-year-old Stephanie Neiman twice and then buried her alive.

I want to pause here and make what is, for me at least, the most important observation. Stephanie Neiman was a brave young girl who had just graduated from high school. Her murder left behind two devastated parents who will grieve all their lives. Stephanie Neiman deserves our sympathy; as for sympathy for Mr Locket, I’m fresh out.

This sounds for all the world like I’m leading up to a defense of the death penalty. I am not. I oppose the death penalty and I have the votes, going back through decades of legislative service, to prove it. I have never voted for the death penalty. I have always voted against it. Even deep in my anti-God period, I opposed the death penalty.

Why?

Back in my anti-God period, the reason was simple and direct. I come from a poor background. I have sat in courtrooms and listened as police officers perjured themselves to give testimony to convict someone. I have listened to testimony in which witnesses said under oath that law enforcement had instructed them to lie to help them convict a “bigger fish” or face criminal prosecution themselves.

I wasn’t motivated by a belief in a consistent respect for the sanctity of human life at that time. After all, I was doing everything I could to keep abortion “safe and legal.” What motivated me was the simple fact that I knew — not guessed, but knew — that our justice system is too rife with human weakness to be allowed to take a person’s life.

That was back then in my anti-God period. I still have not evolved to the point that I can honestly say I feel sorry for people who do heinous things to other people. I am not wracked with sympathy for Mr Locket because it took him just under an hour to die from the drugs that were administered to him Tuesday.

My sympathy is all with Stephanie Neiman and her parents. Can you imagine what it must have been like to be Stephanie Neiman, raped repeatedly, begging for her life, shot twice and then still alive while the dirt fell over her head?

How must it be for her parents to know that their beautiful little girl, the baby they brought home from the hospital, the little girl dancing under the Christmas tree, the young woman who had just graduated from high school, died alone and inhaling dirt?

No. I’m all out of sympathy for Mr Clayton Locket, the man who murdered Stephanie and then went on to threaten to kill prison guards and throw feces at people and who repeatedly made weapons out of objects in prison to use on other prisoners.

I oppose the death penalty for one simple reason. The Clayton Lockets of this world are murderers. I am not.

The press surrounding this botched execution has, predictably, run straight to purple. A guest on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show is reported to have likened Mr Locket’s execution to medieval torture. I can only assume that Miss Maddow and her guest don’t know very much about medieval torture. Likewise for all the other over-the-top nonsense I’ve been reading.

The death penalty is wrong because it’s unnecessary killing. We have what it takes to deep six these guys in our prison systems and leave them there until they die their natural deaths. I am not talking about, and I do not support, anything less than a total and absolute life sentence with no paroles, parole hearings, or compassionate truncations.

I don’t care if these murderers serve 60 long years and then get a terminal illness and petition to go home to die. There are some crimes that must mean that you die in prison. Heinous murders are such crimes.

We need a sane discussion of the death penalty in this country. The purpose of any law concerning legal punishments for crimes should always be to provide for the public good. Vengeance has no place in the law.

I do not doubt for a single moment that there are people who should never be allowed to walk free in our society. I do not limit that consideration to heinous murderers. I think violent or repeat rapists, gang rapists and child rapers should all be put in prison for life. The recidivism rate on violent sexual predators is simply too high to let these people out to prey again.

However, we do not have the right to kill people.

Let me say that again.

We do not have the right to kill people.

Human life belongs to God and we may not arbitrarily end it.

I believe that self-defense is always an exception to this, for the simple reason that every life is precious, including our own. I believe that I can use deadly force to defend my life or the lives of others. I extend that right of self-defense to nations, as well.

But other than acting in self defense, killing any human being is always wrong.

Governments are charged with providing for the safety of their citizens, which is a clear form of self-defense. We do not need the death penalty to provide for the public safety. We can lock these killers up and keep them locked up. We also do not have to let them give interviews, call their victims and all the other many things they indulge in while behind bars.

Mr Locket’s death was not medieval torture. That’s just bizarre hyperbole. If you’re looking for a better example of wanton disregard for life, and something that approaches torture, consider what Mr Locket did to Stephanie Neiman.

We need to create just penalties for the monsters among us that do not make murderers out of all the rest of us.

Why?

Because they are murderers.

We are not.

  • Laura Lowder

    Rebecca, I’m almost with you. Secure our penal system against the whims of sentimentalists who will come along and try to get those violent criminals released for whatever reason, and I’ll be with you 100%.

    I also think that the sentimentalists need to recognize that the reason we have a severely flawed execution like lethal injection is because they are stupid enough to equate bloodlessness with “humanitarianism.”

    • hamiltonr

      Good point Laura. It’s easy enough to write the laws to do this. But there will always be those trying to scale the wall and knock them down.

      What it takes is will on the part of our saner people.

  • Terrye Newkirk

    Your credibility suffers when you don’t even spell the subject’s name correctly. It fails altogether when you cannot differentiate between legal execution and murder.

    • hamiltonr

      I tried to answer this earlier, but disqus went south on me.

      I don’t know what the correct spelling of Mr Locket’s name might be. I’ve seen it spelled in a variety of ways in several different news reports from reputable organizations. I elected to use the spelling I found in the Oklahoman.

      Instead of making snarky comments, why don’t you explain why you feel that legal execution and murder are two different entities and why you don’t agree with me?

      • Terrye Newkirk

        Rebecca, if you Google Clayton Lockett, you’ll see that official documents and virtually all media outlets spell Lockett with two T’s, including the Daily Oklahoman, which you cite.

        I’m sorry you find the desire for basic accuracy “snarky.” I admit that my experience as a reporter and editor, and, later, a college instructor of journalism, writing, and literature, makes me sensitive to such gaffes, which would have provoked roars from my ferocious city editors.

        My primary objection is rather your equation of capital punishment with murder. Catholics are free to hold varying opinions on the issue, but I don’t believe yours is a legitimate one.

        • hamiltonr

          Terry, you can also find it spelled Locket, including in the Oklahoman. I can show you page after page of Google hits from reputable publications spelling it that way. However, if I spelled it incorrectly, then I stand corrected. Apologies.

          You credentials do not in any way mitigate your absolutely snarky comment.

          I got that you were trying to say that you disagreed with my reason for refusing to not support the death penalty, i.e., Clayton Locket (sic) was a murderer, but I am not. I just thought you expressed that opinion in a snarky, and totally unsupported manner.

          Join in the discussion Terrye. You are welcome to do so.

  • pagansister

    Just an honest question, Rebecca. You brought up that the now deceased murderer never had remorse for his actions, and also created problems while still alive in jail. If he was so intent on that behavior, is it fair to the guards and maybe the other inmates to have yet another dangerous person inside the jail walls? He apparently didn’t kill a guard or another inmate, but from reading above, that was always a possibility. Was the possible life of a guard worth keeping him alive forever until he died on his own? IMO, no.

    • hamiltonr

      Another good point. I think we can control these guys. But I’m going to leave it open for discussion here in the com boxes. What do the rest of you think?

      • fredx2

        There are some mafia and gang related people in jail who are able to “reach out” from behind bars and have others killed. This happens all the time. Since the standard of the church is that we should not execute a murderer if we can keep him from harming others, then church teaching probably allows the execution of those who are still organizing killings from jail.
        The next question is whether someone who seems to be deeply, inherently violent and may pose a danger to guards or other inmates could be executed. I would think not so long as reasonable measures could be taken to reduce the risk.

        • hamiltonr

          If and when we cannot keep these people locked away, then the question of the death penalty becomes a matter of the public good. However, corruption among prison officials is another crime, not a reason. This level of government corruption raises the very real question of whether or not we can trust a system that is this corrupt with the power to execute people. Corrupt government officials at any level deny justice by their very existence. The answer is to put these corrupt officials in prison, as well.

      • JD

        I have similar thoughts to pagansister. In general, I oppose the death penalty, but in this particular case, it seems the man was continually a threat to the life of other prisoners and prison guards. The Church has maintained that the state has a legitimate right to capital punishment if necessary to protect its citizenry. Discussion of the death penalty is nuanced and that’s why I can’t support many Christians efforts to outlaw capital punishment altogether. I do think that the criteria for its use needs to be changed from heinousness of the crime to the ability of the state to ensure the safety of its people, prisoners and guards included.

      • MrSpock

        Just as my two cents, we’ve had a convicted carjacker and a murderer escape here near Detroit in the past few months. So, I’m not sure about being able to control them.

        • hamiltonr

          That is the real issue, so far as I’m concerned. If we can’t keep these guys locked up, then the death penalty because an issue of public safety. I read up about Ted Bundy because he killed a lot of women, including a child, after he escaped from prison.

          These are all things we need to discuss intelligently. Just throwing gotchas back and forth at one another does not make for good thinking or good ideas.

    • udcrabbymom

      Even the Church does not totally forbid the death penalty when it is necessary to protect others. I think some of these unrepentant, dangerous criminals probably fit that definition. Years ago in NJ there were 2 dangerous, unrepentant murderers in jail together. One had killed a state trooper and the other(I believe) had murdered a young woman. While in jail one of these 2 murderers murdered the other. I’m sure that if he had gotten out he would have no problem murdering again. That’s when I had doubts about whether the death penalty could be done away with completely. I think that it could be reserved for dangerous individuals with whom there is no doubt of their guilt.

  • CRS

    It is a form of self-defense by the government in consideration of society to execute prisoners like Locket who pose a permanent threat to society, and who it can be proven will commit the same or similar crime if given the chance. Men bent on murder and rape will harm whomever is in their path, and nothing we say or do, and no length of time locked up, will change that. By locking them up, we are essentially giving them time and a chance to harm others, be the potential victims less dangerous prisoners, prison guards, or society if these criminals ever successfully get out. I will add that miracles do happen as in the case of St. Maria Goretti and Alexander, the man who attempted to rape her and then murdered her when his attempt failed, but it is our responsibility as Catholics to pray for miracles like this, especially if we are going to hold the view that the government ought not to defend society through legal execution.

  • FW Ken

    Rebecca, you know I’m with you on this point, but I want to point out that “feeling sorry for” is not part of the equation. Pity is a very destructive attitude. I have absolutely no compassion for this particular murderer.

    In Texas, we have administrative segregation, where the offender lives in a single cell 23 hours a day. He has an hour of recreation outside, alone. That takes care of the danger to others.

    Executions have not been shown to reduce violent crime. I saw one study that suggested they increase violent crime.

    cad.sagepub.com/content/45/4/481.refs

    In fact, this is another one of those complex issues that is wrapped up in politics. But it’s interesting that the article cites George W. Bush to the effect that deterrence is the only reason to support the death penalty. As a Catholic (meddling in politics! ), I would call that utilitarianism, but then again, I have those pesky moral objections.

    • bill b

      FW Ken
      Actually the US Supreme Court in 1976 believed those studies that found that executions deter murders and the Court then stopped their own moratorium on the death penalty…noting that executions do not deter passion murders but do deter pre meditated murders. Economist professors oddly enough doing regressional analysis were in that school and Joanna Sheperd of Emory was one who tried fusing the findings of both schools. She found that executions if done rarely cause incremental increases in murder but if done non rarely save 3 to 18 murder victims per execution. The Court had stopped executions in the US in 1972 and resumed them in 1976. Death penalty states had a 91% increase in murders after the beginning of the moratorium and had a 72% decrease in murders after 1976 and the resuming of the death penalty.

      google NY Times Does Death Penalty Save Lives
      and separately… Michigan Law Review Joanna M. Shepherd Deterrence versus brutalization

      disque is not letting me link for some reason right now

      • FW Ken

        Discus is evil that way.

        Thank you for the references. I’ll do some more reading. It’s clearly a complex subject, but not one that stands alone.

  • bill b

    Six Popes from 1796 til 1865 executed 516 criminals in the then large papal states through this man:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giovanni_Battista_Bugatti

    Is that because they didn’t think of life sentences which were as old as the Roman empire which used the mines for life sentences…ad metalla…to the metals?
    Life sentences only protect from captured murderers (somewhat as noted by pagansister) not from uncaptured murderers. In Catholic Quatemala, only 5% of murderers are ever captured. The catechism posits perfect prisons as the worldwide situation when in fact the two largest Catholic countries have porous prisons, no death penalty, and murder rates over 20 per 100,000 …Mexico and Brazil. Chapo Guzman, a cartel head, paid his way out of a maximum security prison years ago in Mexico. It is as though the catechism writer only checked Euro prisons like Luxembourg or Scandinavia prior to saying modern penology was working just fine worldwide without the death penalty. China by UN figures is safer than Mexico and Brazil by a factor of 20+ times safer and she has poor people in the hundreds of millions. Death penalty Japan, though not having radically poor, is sixty times safer as to murder than the two largest Catholic countries. How do you convert them to Catholicism when they are safer from murder than almost every Catholic culture on earth?

  • mollysdad

    The death penalty is unnecessary killing. Imposing a fine is unnecessary theft. Imprisonment is unnecessary abduction and confinement. The point you haven’t addressed is whether a punishment of any description is justly deserved. Without a title founded upon retribution, the imposition of any punishment is wicked and unjust. Killing or imprisoning a criminal is not the object of a right, but the object of a lawful power, unless God lied at Genesis 9:6.

    • hamiltonr

      No idea where to start with this. :-)

      None of your juxtapositions apply to anything at all. They’re just rhetoric.

      The point of punishment under the law is to maintain a just and stable government and a stable and civil society. Laws are not meant to mete out “justice” in the sense you are describing. They are meant to achieve an end; which is a stable and functioning society.

      The death penalty does not usually (there are exceptional cases, where this may not be true) provide for a more stable society, for the simple reason that in modern societies (as opposed specifically to ancient ones) it is possible to remove such persons who are too violent and dangerous to be abroad from the public sphere and keep them there.

      The question is not whether or not the death penalty is necessary to maintain public order and safety in a modern society — it isn’t. It is rather, as so many irate commenters are saying, a matter of an eye-for-an-eye retribution.

      Of course the things these people do raise the killer blood lust in you. That is what the devil means for them to do. However, justice of the eye-for-an-eye sort would, in the case we are discussing as a for-instance, require you to find three people of much greater size than Mr Locket, who will kidnap and terrify him, bind and gag him with duct tape, then repeatedly rape and beat him, force him to watch while his grave is being dug, then try to shoot him with one gun and when that gun jams, to get a rifle and shoot him twice, then bury him alive. It would also be necessary to stand over him after you’ve shot him and joke about it.

      Any volunteers????

      Maybe we need to get an axe murderer to execute axe murderers, and have a state strangler to put down the stranglers.

      There is no justice in this for the simple reason that it makes us into what we are trying to stop.

      The death penalty is unnecessary in almost all instances in a modern society. As such, it is unnecessary killing.

      • mollysdad

        It is never just to impose a capital or non-capital punishment which is not deserved in retribution. Of you want to discard the notion of just deserts, then by all means do so, provided that you concede that incarcerating people is meant only to restrain criminals and protect society, without imposing any kind of criminal stigma. In that case, we might as well dispense with judges and give the job to police and prison officers.

        • hamiltonr

          Molly, I honestly don’t understand what you are trying to say. We don’t legislate stigma. Your comment about eliminating judges doesn’t track for me, either.

          • mollysdad

            What I am saying is that every criminal justice system worthy of respect is based on the idea that, if you commit a crime, you get the punishment you deserve, a punishment that fits the crime. If punishment is not deserved, it is morally objectionable to impose it for any reason.

          • hows_the_boy

            I think what mollysdad is saying is that any punishment that is not retributive is not just. And this is perfectly correct.

      • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

        Rebecca your argument of it being vengence is ridiculous. Holding someone in jail for life is just as much vengence and retribution. The argument is whether capital punishment satifies society’s sense of justice.

        • hamiltonr

          Well … we can’t turn them loose. I think everyone can agree on that much. :-)

    • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

      Right on. Even holding a murder in jail for one day would be construed by Rebecca’s definition as vengence. Her argument doesn’t even begin to hold water. The only reasonable argument against the death penalty is to say that humanity requires mercy and that killing is a step too far. But her argument of it being vengence is shallow.

      • hamiltonr

        You’re going right over the top Manny. I said no such thing and you know it. Calm yourself, my Italian friend.

        • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

          I’m sorry, but I can’t say your argument as vengence is deep. Someone up above pointed out how Popes enforced the death penalty themselves until 1865. I can understand arguments against the death penalty that it is an indignity, that it is irreversible, that it cannot be applied fairly. I don’t agree with those arguments, but there is a logic that upholds. The argument that it is vengence doesn’t hold up. Life in jail is just as much vengence as capital punishment, and some might argue that it’s a more inhumane punishment.

          • hamiltonr

            My argument is not that it is vengeance. It is that it is — in advanced societies and in almost all cases — unnecessary. The reason I mentioned vengeance in the post — and it was a one-sentence one-off — because vengeance (he/she “deserves” to die) is the most common argument in favor of the death penalty that I’ve encountered in many years of dealing with this issue in an official capacity.

            • bill b

              Rebecca,
              Both Jeffrey Dahmer and Fr. Geoghan were murdered by lifers in states that abolished the death penalty in an advanced culture. Both murderers knew they could not be punished further than their sentence of life that they were serving anyway unless they had to do time in solitary which apparently was ok with them. That’s in an advanced society. Abolition means intra gang murders in prison by lifer gang members is more probable under abolition than under the death penalty. Ordering murders from prison out on the streets by lifer gang leaders is more probable under dp abolition than under the death penalty.
              But Catholicism’s two largest populations are non death penalty Brazil and Mexico, financially both upper middle income average designation by the World Bank yet with dilapidated prisons generally…both of whom have no death penalty and horrendous murder rates of over 20 per 100,000 people (UN figures)…21.8 Brazil and 23.7 putting them in the worst 25 countries. El Salvador and Honduras are the two worst murder rate countries on earth and have no death penalty….and are heavily Catholic though figures vary by sources because Catholic born people may migrate to other churches while still seeing themselves as Catholic hence the CIA fact book has Honduras as 97% Catholic and others list half that.
              My question is this. Have you seen any proof that St. John Paul II even looked into the real crime records of the two largest Catholic populations on earth prior to stating that life sentences alone were working there and everywhere ( the rarely necessary death penalty passage)?

              • hamiltonr

                Bill, you logic doesn’t track for me. Should we just give everybody to death penalty?

                • bill b

                  No…modern culture couldn’t take the shock and many convictions are iffy anyway and circumstantial. Governments could exclude passion murders, circumstantial cases, questionable witness cases wherein criminals stand to gain by testifying. You could restrict it to virtually common knowledge cases like the Boston marathon terrorist, those confessing to premeditated murder, the Gabby Giffords common knowledge case unless insanity is there. How many is up to governmental prudence. But in my view, the current position will get future victims killed because some criminals are not averse to serving life at all but are averse to execution. I did one year of social work after college in Manhattan where I visited a recently released convict in a lonely West Side apartment of one room with a hot plate. He described to me how lonely he felt now and how beautiful the chapel was in prison. That night on the subway I said to myself…he’s going back. One month later he did a easily caught crime by breaking a jewelry store window and grabbing jewels with a blaring alarm ringing loudly in Manhattan. He wanted prison comraderie and its welfare culture rather than lonely Manhattan.
                  God mandated over 34 death penalties to the Jews because it deters certain acts that He did not want committed.

            • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

              Well, excuse me if I’m sensitive to language and argument. Here’s another wording that drives me crazy: ” in advanced societies.” Advanced? What’s advanced? Advanced societies have legalized abortion, have have sanctioned gay marriage, are in the process of standardizing euthanasia, have destroyed the notion of love and marriage, have created a disgusting billion dollar industry of pornography under the advanced notion of free speech. Now do you consider yourself supportive of advanced societies?
              I have said this many times, it is without question that when one argues for a Liberal position on an issue, they will undoubtedly call their conservative opponent, benighted and a barbarian. Somewhere in here you called those that support the death penalty blood thirsty. Well, I guess I’m as blood thirsty and benighted and as much of a barbarian as those popes that signed off on the executions of those in the Papal States.

              • hamiltonr

                By “advanced” I was referring to societies which have reached a state of stability of technological sophistication that would allow them to keep murderers in prison, if that was their will. It was not a moral assessment. :-)

                • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

                  :)

  • http://desidelerium.wordpress.com CS

    As a former sex offender and murderer I would say that you might be surprised just how easy it is to become “one of them” Mrs. Hamilton – but other than that I think you nailed it here.

    Love Craig

  • Howard

    At least you agree that he deserved to die. If you can agree that justice permits such executions, we can skip the rancorous part of the argument. My greatest frustration on the topic is with people who seem to believe that human beings are not really capable of moral acts that are that significant — even though they often believe in Hell!

    Any Christian discussion of any punishment, including but not limited to the death penalty, must include mercy and forgiveness. The only reason not to execute those who genuinely deserve it is mercy. We who hope to receive mercy are under a special obligation to show mercy! It is only here that prudence becomes an issue, but prudence rarely requires an execution to go forward. (Robert Bales, who murdered 16 civilians in Afghanistan, might be an example in which it was imprudent not to carry out the death penalty, due to the appearance of favoritism and the likelihood of reprisals.)

    The problem is that writing the death penalty out of the law is neither mercy nor forgiveness. Mercy flows from one person to another, not from a legislature to an anonymous class of future defendants. Laws are like robots, not persons.

    That doesn’t mean there are no consequences for laws involving the death penalty. There needs to be ample access to personal mercy. Traditionally, this comes from the chief executive — either a governor or president. In some states there are huge bureaucratic hurdles to executive clemency, and this should not be the case.

    Also, it seems obvious to me that the humanity of the criminal should be prominent throughout an execution. Lethal injection is how we euthanize sick dogs; it is offensive to use the same method for a human being. This will sound terrible to some people, but either hanging or a firing squad (if done properly) seems to be quick to the condemned and to retain a weird kind of dignity. At least they are not how we euthanize pets or slaughter livestock.

    • hamiltonr

      I don’t think I said anything that would fit your description of your greatest frustration on this topic.

      • Howard

        Right! We don’t entirely agree, but our disagreement is not fundamental.

    • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

      Well said Howard.

  • http://gilmichelini.com/ Gil Michelini

    Well written, helpful insight. Thank you for not losing sight of why is was in prison.

  • hows_the_boy

    The issue of the death penalty, from the traditional Catholic point of view, is not about “vengenace”, not about “control”, not about “deterrance” but about retributive justice.
    Nowhere today is there talk about retributive justice, and even the Catechism glaringly leaves out this defence of the death penalty which has been accepted for 19 centuries.
    Yet retributive justice is still there as part of the natural law. And not only is it there, but is in fact a great mercy. For the prisonor can thereby will to offer his life up to God in reparation for his sin, and thus not only save his soul, but lessen his time in purgatory.
    Otherwise we make Saint Paul and 1900 years of Catholic Saints out to be “murderers”.

    • bill b

      Excellent.

    • FW Ken

      This was the argument advanced by (I think) Avery Cardinal Dulles. If has the weight of history on its side, and it is theologically sound. However, it supposes the government administers the death penalty justly. In the United States, there is a strong argument that is not the case.

  • Ralph Warth

    These murderer doing life sentences are not being controlled. There are professional killers in prison who will murder for a carton of cigarettes.

  • ClassicalTeacher

    I’m a Catholic and I am staunchly pro-life. I believe in the death penalty.

    • Martin

      No, actually, you are not pro-life. And you forgot the adjective, you’re a Cafeteria Catholic. Being against the death penalty, except in very rare cases as set forth by Pope St. John Paul II, is a non-negotiable teaching of the Catholic Church.

      • hamiltonr

        Martin, please do not attack the other commenters.

        • Martin

          Yes, you are correct. I should have been more charitable in my response.

          My apologies to you, the Classical Teacher to whom I made the response, and anyone who read my comments.

      • hows_the_boy

        The Catholic Church’s natural law-based teaching on the acceptability of the death penalty has been around rather longer than the respected, yet still merely prudential, opinions of St John Paul II.

        Really one needs to consider what might have formed St John Paul’s opinion. Was it perhaps that with such a culture of death , abortion, euthanasia, and comtempt for *innocent* human life, that perhaps, just perhaps, it would give a clearer message to our morally comatose world that by opposing the implementation of death penalty perhaps someone somewhere, who cannot see the difference between the innocent and the guilty, would begin to see human life with a big more dignity? Perhaps this is the reason why the recent popes have opposed the state’s *rightful use* of the death penalty?
        Did anyone here bother to pray that this Locket prisoner might use the opportunity of knowing the date of his appointment with his Divine Judge to be moved to repentance and thus save his soul?
        Probably not. How far we have drifted from a Catholic view of retributive justice.

        • Martin

          Good points. I was under the impression that what was contained in the CCC was not opinion but solid orthodoxy. I guess I was wrong (from the various attacks of my former position), but now I am confused as to how I find out what it is that I MUST believe in order to be a faithful Catholic.

      • FW Ken

        You are wrong. St. JP II did not solemnly defined opposition to the death penalty as a matter of faith. Faithful Catholics can disagree on this matter.

        • Martin

          Ken,

          I never said JP II solemnly defined opposition to the death penalty. Perhaps faithful Catholics can disagree on this matter, but I (now) feel completely unqualified to answer that question and am a bit confused as to what Catholics can disagree with the Holy Father on and still be faithful Catholics. Feeling confused…

          • FW Ken

            You can’t go wrong with the catechism.

            Popes often make prudential judgements that are not a matter of faith. As has been pointed out, popes in the past have approved of capital punishment. The point is that this is not a case in which we can use the term “cafeteria Catholic”.

      • bill b

        You are incorrect Martin. The position is based on Evangelium Vitae which is the ordinary papal magisterium in the death penalty section which is not infallible…( see intro to Ott’s ” Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma”/ section 8. ” the ordinary and usual form of the Papal teaching activity is not infallible”). EV had three extraordinary condemnations which are infallible and used a shortened version of the ex cathedra formula….against abortion ( sect. 62 e.g.) against euthanasia, and against killing the innocent. These three had the unanimity of the world’s Bishops through a polling done by John Paul II. They are non negotiable. Were you to make every papal teaching non negotiable, then you would have to believe in burning heretics which Pope Leo X affirmed in Exsurge Domine in 1520 which burnings St. Pope John Paul II apologized for and hence saw as wrong as in section 80 of Splendor of the Truth wherein he calls coercion of spirit an intrinsic evil. Catholics thought Vix Pervenit in 1745 condemning any interest on loans whatsoever was non negotiable but it was overturned in 1830 in answer to dubia to the Vatican ( questions from dioceses).

        • Martin

          Mr Bannon,

          I did not say that the position was infallible defined. My position is based on the CCC 2267. If I can’t believe what is in the Catechism then what am I to believe? Is there a list somewhere that I can get a hold of so that I know what I must believe and on which teachings I can dissent? I believe that the issue of contraception has never been infallibly defined, nor has the issue of women’s ordination been infallibly defined (JP II used a version of the ex cathedra formula in Mulieris Dignitatem but I assure you that he did not have any kind of unanimity among the bishops on this issue as I have met bishops who disagree with the Church on this issue) – although I could be wrong on both account, which is why I asked the question about he list of things with which I can and cannot deny and still be Catholic. I am now very confused, I thought that if I stuck to the CCC that was a guide to the non-negotiable of the faith. I guess I’m wrong, and now I’m confused – help?

          • bill b

            Email me at (deleted) with any questions or hunt in your area as I did even after 16 years of great Catholic schooling for an older priest who is happy but orthodox….and consider contacting the nearest Catholic college’s theology department for a priest professor to meet with you not on one issue like NFP or death penalty but on authority levels and can they ever be dissented from sincerely after struggle. Also check pages 853 and afterwards of Germain Grisez’s ” Christian Moral Principles” whch is volume one of ” Way of the Lord Jesus” and he will grudgingly show you his conditions for sincere, prayerful dissent on the not yet clearly infallible which are those moral positions within the ordinary magisterium that are held to be universal by some and not universal by others. Canon 749-3 reads as follows: ” No doctrine is to be understood as defined infallibly unless this is manifestly evident.”. Consider that golden. It protects you from others when they try to coerce you on an issue and it protects classical teacher from you when you say the current dp position is non negotiable. Catholicism has had extreme positions historically…not one cent of interest on a personal loan/ burning heretics is good…Exsurge Domine,1520/ …your job is to admit that and learn to avoid the extremes and forcing the extremes on others. To me the current death penalty position is just as extreme as burning heretics was in Exsurge Domine by Leo X. Yes they are opposites but they are both extremes. Read Gen.9:6 and Romans 13:4

            • hamiltonr

              Bill, I deleted your email address. Putting that on here is a bad idea for you. I have a policy of never allowing comments that would cost people their privacy on this blog. If you would like, I’ll delete the whole comment, or you can leave it as it is. I apologize for editing it, but the only option would have been to delete it entirely.

              • bill b

                That’s fine as is….keep it with delete parenthesis.

      • Howard

        “Except in very rare cases” does not mean “never”. Maybe you want to say that John Paul II did not meet your standards of being “pro-life”? Was St. John Paul II a Cafeteria Catholic, because he did not meet your standards?

        • Martin

          First, I am not more Catholic than the pope, and the language I used was very much in line with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is clear on this point (2267):

          “The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude… recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor.
          “If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
          “Today, in fact, given the means at the State’s disposal to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it, without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself, cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender ‘today … are very rare, if not practically non-existent.’[John Paul II, Evangelium vitae 56.]”

          So to use JPII’s words “very rare, if not practically non-existent.”

          All that said, apparently one does not need to believe what is in the CCC to be a faithful Catholic, although this leaves me rather confused.

          • Howard

            Again: “very rare” does not mean “never”.

            I’m sorry that you do not believe what is in the CCC, though you apparently consider yourself a faithful Catholic. If you did, you might believe when it says, “The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude… recourse to the death penalty….” If you DO exclude recourse to the death penalty, as a matter of principle and under all circumstances, you are going against Catholic Tradition as cited in the CCC. So far as I know, and as far as you know, that is all that ClassicalTeacher meant.

  • hows_the_boy

    So St Paul and any other Catholic of the last two millennia who was in favour of the state’s use of death penalty is in fact a “murderer”?

    • FW Ken

      No, disputed questions impart no moral opprobrium. Until a question is settled, it’s not settled. I think it was St. Bernard of Clairveaux who argued against the Immaculate Conception. That is no longer a permissible position for a Catholic.

      • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

        The death penalty is not the same thing as the Immaculate Conception. I don’t recall what the correct terminology is but the church being against the death penalty is not an infallible decision.

        • FW Ken

          That’s what I was saying. ☺

          • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

            LOL, ok.

  • Ikilope

    Perhaps we should do as common law requires, when an execution is botched the prisoner is set free. It is an act of God protesting the innocence of the accused.
    However; the death penalty is barbarous, it is now and has always been.
    The outrage is that the outrage happens after the man is dead. We should have been more clear in the opposition to the execution long before this happened,

    • Nick_from_Detroit

      “However; the death penalty is barbarous, it is now and has always been.”
      Was God “barbarous” when He commanded the death penalty, in Exodus & Leviticus, Ikilope?

      • Ikilope

        What God commands and what we command are entirely different things are they not? Or are you just claiming to be acting as God when you support the death penalty?

        • Nick_from_Detroit

          Ikilope,

          No, I am obeying God by acknowledging the He allowed the death penalty to protect society. Capital punishment is not intrinsically evil, as is abortion. The Catholic Church has always taught that states have the right to put criminals to death. In fact, popes, as late as A.D. 1870, routinely put criminals to death, as head of the Papal States. Were they being barbarous? God Bless!

    • pagansister

      If the execution is botched, then try again! It would have been wrong to free the murderer in this article.

  • crazylikeknoxes

    I oppose the death for more or less the same secular and spiritual reasons you set forth above. One spiritual angle on the debate I do not often see discussed focuses on the soul of the offender. Taking a man’s life is one thing, taking a man’s life when his soul is at risk is another. You may think this a silly consideration, but I do not. In one of Shakespeare’s plays, a condemned man avoids execution because he won’t repent (I sort of recall him being drunk). Also, I came across in American history where a bishop interceded on behalf of a condemned man whose soul was not in a state grace. His life was spared — until he repented which sealed his (earthly) fate. (I think it was Bishop Fenwick.) Finally, I recall on older movie where one character avoids killing his nemesis until the nemesis commits some blasphemy. Other than self-defense, killing a human being is always wrong – but is not the worst thing that can happen.

    • MBinSTL

      It’s possible to argue the other direction as well, regarding the soul of the offender, i.e. that the death penalty is spiritually medicinal. See Fr. George Rutler’s fine article “Hanging Concentrates the Mind” (Crisis Magazine, 8 Feb 2013). It’s free to read online, and will turn up quickly with a search for title and author. Peace of Christ be with you.

      • crazylikeknoxes

        I agree. For me, personally, the balance weighs against executing – at least in this day and time. Be that as it may ….
        I very much enjoyed Sister Prejean’s Dead Man Walking and was moved by the final moments of condemneds’ lives. But I was always acutely aware that, but for the condemned being confronted with the prospect of their own death, these moments of grace would likely never have occurred. I oppose the death penalty, but I won’t pretend it’s simple.

  • MBinSTL

    “The power of life and death is permitted to certain civil magistrates because theirs is the responsibility under law to punish the guilty and protect the innocent. Far from being guilty of breaking this commandment [Thou shalt not kill], such an execution of justice is precisely an act of obedience to it. For the purpose of the law is to protect and foster human life. This purpose is fulfilled when the legitimate authority of the State is exercised by taking the guilty lives of those who have taken innocent lives.” – Catechism of the Council of Trent

    “Even in the case of the death penalty the State does not dispose of the individual’s right to life. Rather public authority limits itself to depriving the offender of the good of life in expiation for his guilt, after he, through his crime, deprived himself of his own right to life.” – Pope Pius XII, 14 September 1952

    More magisterial texts can be cited; the fact is that the Catholic Church has taught, officially, unmistakably, and on numerous occasions, that the death penalty may be legitimately imposed by the State, and that it is not murder. Pope St. John Paul II’s teaching on the death penalty in Evangelium Vitae doesn’t stand alone – it must be received in the context of the Church’s previous teaching on the subject.

    See also Fr. George Rutler’s fine article “Hanging Concentrates the Mind” (Crisis Magazine, 8 Feb 2013) and the late Fr. John Hardon’s article “Capital Punishment: New Testament Teaching” (Real Presence Association, 1998). Both may be read freely online, and will turn up easily in a google search for title and author.

  • http://www.lightofhumanreason.com/ Light of Human Reason

    Respectfully, you miss one crucial fact:

    Murder is the deliberate killing of an innocent person.

    I also suggest the article misses the main point of the death penalty — indeed, of any criminal sentence — which is justice. Public safety is secondary to this. The death penalty is an exercise of justice, and an entirely right and fitting punishment for a crime like Locket’s.

    • hamiltonr

      Sorry. You are giving a theological definition of murder, and a theological reason for the death penalty.

      Political rhetoric aside, the point of any law — and I am referring here specifically to statutes enacted by a legislative body in a democracy — is governance.

      None of this says that you can’t or shouldn’t base your opinions and actions, including how you judge the merits of a given law, on theological beliefs. But laws that govern are always about governance. If they veer off that focus by too much, they create chaos and, ironically, grave injustice. Governance is the purpose of law.

      • http://www.lightofhumanreason.com/ Light of Human Reason

        Thanks for your reply.

        I don’t believe I’m giving a theological definition of murder — in fact, I’m not sure what a theological definition is. Could you explain? As I see it, I’m just describing what murder is, which is something just as objective as what gold is, or what gravity is, or what a person is. Definitions aren’t theological or political or legal; they’re right, or wrong.

        “None of this says that you can’t or shouldn’t base your personal opinions and actions on theological beliefs.”

        I’m not basing this definition on my Catholic beliefs; just on what observation and reason (and through them, the natural law) show us. The idea that my definition of murder is a personal opinion (if this is what you’re suggesting — forgive me if I’ve misunderstood you) leads straight to subjectivism.

      • Howard

        That’s not “political rhetoric” — justice is the only thing that differentiates true government from simply rule by the most powerful gang of thugs.

        “None of this says that you can’t or shouldn’t base your opinions and actions, including how you judge the merits of a given law, on theological beliefs.” Your entire basis for opposition to the death penalty is based on your theological beliefs! You are not basing it on some mere practical calculation of what measures are necessary to pacify a rebellious population.

  • Nick_from_Detroit

    As a Catholic, I agree with the Church’s teaching on the death penalty. She has always taught that the state has the right to put criminals to death in order to protect society. This is because God commanded an eye for an eye back at the time of the Exodus. (This was actually a liberal policy in those very barbaric times.)
    I also agree with St. John Paul II, amongst others, and the CCC, who stated that the use of the death penalty is almost nonexistent in wealthy, first-world nations. Remember, the purpose of execution is to protect the greater society.
    If you disagree that capital punishment should be rare in the U.S., because violent criminals are still a threat to society behind most prison walls, I would remind you that the way the death penalty is practiced in our country is contrary to biblical teaching.
    Moses said that there had to be “two or three witnesses” to a crime in order to execute the offender. One witness was not enough (cf. Dt. 17:6). There are states that execute murderers based only on circumstantial evidence, which should scare the you-know-what out of anyone who lives in those states. Imagine what it would feel like to be sentenced to death for something you didn’t do.

  • Wendell Clanton

    Let’s be practical and merciful. The death penalty is, for the most part, unnecessary. In North America, in the USA and Canada at least, we possess the ability to incarcerate for life. So, let’s do that.

    Assuming absolute guilt for a crime, a life sentence should be just that, incarceration for the rest of the earthly life of anyone convicted for murder and/or rape. Justice and sympathy for those harmed by someone’s actions demand no less. Justice, however, excludes vengeance. We need not sink to the level of the murderer or rapist to ensure that justice is served. Murdering a murderer does not restore the life of a lost loved-one. At some point we have to insist on what is rational to protect society from devolving into a community of blood thirsty animals.

    If a murderer/rapist repents, good. The guilty, however, must still serve out the life sentence. Again, justice and sympathy for those harmed by someone’s actions demand no less. An individual who shows genuine remorse can do good from behind bars, so-to-speak, by educating themselves and contributing to the well being of fellow inmates, or work in prison factories making products which benefit society, and so forth. They can honour the memory of the person whose life they took or damaged by doing what good they can for the remainder of their time on earth.

    In order to protect what little remains of the welfare of citizens and soldiers in war torn societies, the death penalty can be applied when lifelong incarceration cannot be guaranteed. Or, if a state cannot ensure a life sentence will be carried out to its conclusion in a prison—e.g., where a prison system is compromised—then execution may be the only alternative to preventing a criminal from harming any one else. Such a position accords with the historic teaching of the Church.

    As for the means of execution should it be necessary under the circumstances outlined above? Death should be quick and, if circumstances permit, painless. If we show mercy to the merciless we avoid becoming that which we abhor. Forgiving the murder or rapist does not mean we are so naive as to think such a person can act badly again and again. That’s why life sentences are necessary. Forgiveness frees us from the burden of a soul destroying grudge that imprisons victims in some ways more than the criminals. Forgiveness requires grace from God, personal sacrifice and trust in God. When we cannot forgive, we should ask God’s forgiveness for that and trust in His mercy, all the while seeking the ability to forgive. To do otherwise is, as has been said, to risk becoming that which we abhor.

    Lastly, our forgiveness can aid in the transformation of a criminal who, receiving mercy when none is deserved, repents of his or her sins. God speaks through our words and actions. Whether one listens or not is up to the person being spoken to.

    • pagansister

      Somehow in this case, the now executed man wasn’t going to be even remotely sorry for his crime and continued to cause trouble while incarcerated. Life in prison was too good for him.

      • FW Ken

        How do you know that? You might become a Christian tomorrow and I might apostacize. The human heart is complicated and unpredictable.

        We had an axe murderer in Texas who converted and became a model prisoner, a positive influence on her cell blovk. Then we executed her.

        • pagansister

          Not to put down what you said about convict conversions, but I sometimes wonder if they are actual conversions. Perhaps the woman you mentioned hoped it would help her get her sentence reduced to “life” instead of “death”. As to executing the woman you mentioned—she still did the crime. I would assume she had the years of appeals before her sentence was carried out. The fellow in this article was apparently NOT a model prisoner—and I suspect he may never have been. Obviously I don’t know—none of us do. And if I suddenly return to Christianity, I’ll let you know. :-)

          • FW Ken

            Oh please do, PS, and we’ll put that up there with Saul on the way to Damascus. And if I apostacize, you’ll hear about it. ☺

            No, Karla Faye Tucker was a model prisoner for years and never sought release from prison or special consideration in the prison due to her conversion.

            I’ve seen a lot of jailhouse religion in the past 15 years. Sometimes it sticks, mostly it doesn’t. Criminals are, in general, a broken lot. Some are just stupid, some are from families that no one should have to ensure, and so on. These are not excuses, but I think they show why jailhouse religion works in the jailhouse and not so much in the free world.

  • Mrshopey

    I struggle with this, the death penalty. I do not see supporting the death penalty the same as you, becoming a murderer. A murderer carriers out an unlawful act. Hopefully, the person has been afforded a fair trial. If I were in your position and had seen injustices carried out in certain circumstances, it may cause me to rethink that for the state till they got reformed. The problem I have with what St. JPII was calling us to do was the dilemma, what if it isn’t financially possible to do that anymore – life imprisonment? Saying that, I don’t think I could be any part of it, death penalty or carrying it out. But it does seem, even in reading St. JPII, the option remains for the state to carry that out. You have a particular cross to carry as a politician. I hear you. I will pray for you.

  • AnneG

    Rebecca, I agree with you to a large extent. However, the death penalty is a prudential judgement according to Church teaching. I believe it just doesn’t need to be used most of the time, as you say. There are a couple of exceptions, however. Someone else mentioned the case of murder of another prisoner or guard. The other case is where the prisoner’s continued life is a threat to public safety, such as a drug cartel leader. Anyone participating in an act of war, such as terrorism, should be subject to the death penalty. Someday a terrorist group will take hostage a group of innocent people to sue for freedom for a terrorist we have in jail. That’s why.
    Finally, it is irritating to me when some people throw around accusations about being “cafeteria Catholics” when one follows the Catechism to the letter in this regard. Thanks.

  • pesq87

    I’m less interested in whether we have the right to take his life and more interested in whether we should. I believe that we are ABOVE this type of punishment for our captured and imprisoned criminals and should act accordingly. That’s my 2 cents.

  • FW Ken

    I have not seen false convictions addressed. Yet per the innocence project, more than 300 people have been shown to be innocent in the last 25 years. 18 had been sentenced to death. 70% are non-whites (who are sentenced to death disproportionately to stay with). That’s just on DNA evidence. Sentences are also overturned on other reasons.

    So tell me some more about “justice”.

    http://www.innocenceproject.org/know/

  • Ray Glennon

    Rebecca,

    Thanks for this excellent, thoughtful, and convincing column.

    Ramesh Ponnuru’s column on Bloomberg View complements yours and is highly recommended. http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2014-05-02/this-is-why-we-shouldn-t-be-executioners

    He begins this way, “Death is different.” It used to be a bumper sticker for opponents of capital punishment. It demonstrates what sets apart this moral issue from many other ones in politics.” And then he concludes, “We shouldn’t execute people. But not because we might hurt people in the process, and not even because we might on some very rare occasion kill innocent people. We shouldn’t execute people who are unquestionably guilty because we don’t have to do it.” (Note: Because, as you noted, we have other ways to keep society safe rather than killing the murderer.)

    Thanks for being a voice of reason in a world prone to irrational shouting (on both sides of the political aisle).

    Ray Glennon

    Twitter: @RayGlennon

    • hamiltonr

      Thank you Ray.

    • John

      Bitter and angry

      Not at all merciful

      Very scary to read from a Catholic writer so full of unrepentant anger.

      The article spills with you justifying vengeance.,,to satisfy yourself.

      • hamiltonr

        That’s a new one. Most everyone else is chiding me for opposing the death penalty.

      • pagansister

        I so disagree with you. If anyone is not vengeful it is Rebecca.

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    “Vengeance has no place in the law.”
    Please, please, please. You want to be against the death penalty, fine. There are reasons to be against the death penalty, but don’t perpetuate this baloney that it’s vengence. That is so WRONG. Society through a free democracy has elected legislators. They through a deliberative process have decided that capital punishment reflects society’s values as justice given the severity of a crime. The murder was apprehended through proper police procedures. He was tried through a legal process where he was judged by his peers to a standard of beyond a reasonable doubt. There was a judicial review where the process and the verdict was upheld and the review amounted to over ten years of assessment. The legally elected governor of the state reviewed the case and assessed in his gut whether justice was distorted and whether there is a justification for mercy. That is not vengence. That is a society that has put a value and a strict process on capital punishment. It has put a value on the slaughter of innocent human life. If you want to be against the death penalty just be honest about it. It is NOT vengence.

    • hamiltonr

      Most of the arguments made in these com boxes have been in one way or another about vengeance, as are most of the arguments I hear in debate and from supporters of the death penalty one on one. The political pressure to vote in favor of the death penalty comes from the angry demands of citizens who want blood.

      Labeling it justice does not change what it is.

      If killing Mr Locket would have brought Stephanie back to life, then he should have died. If I believed that the death penalty was necessary to keep the public safe, I would be forced to vote for it, even though it would be difficult to sleep afterwards. But his death does not undo her murder, and it does not make us safer.

      I am actually far more cynical than you. I know something you do not seem to have figured out: There is no justice in this life. There are only pragmatic solutions to intractable problems such as the problem of murder, rape, theft, extortion, greed, etc. We have to find the best ways we can to stop these people without going too far. The old ideas of cutting off someone’s hand for stealing a loaf of bread have gone by the board. Killing when we don’t have to will one day follow.

      Vengeance has no place in the law, primarily because it is irrational, destructive and blind. Killing people is not one of the higher functions of humanity Manny. Killing is not noble. It may, in instances of self-defense, be necessary, but it is a terrible thing, even then. It is always base.

      • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

        “Most of the arguments made in these com boxes have been in one way or another about vengeance,”
        That’s because that argument is flawed. Life in jail is just as much vengence, if not more so.

        • FW Ken

          Since I have made the case for life in prison, I’ll say something here. Yes, prison is hell. But it protects the larger community, and it can be reversed if the conviction is found to be false. Those two factors mitigate the vengeance factor.

          Let me also say that your arguments about the legality of the process that led to the death penalty could just as easily be applied to any number of other matters that we might agree are abhorrent.

          • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

            Yes, of course they are abohrrent. Claiming that supporting the death penalty is vengence is just flawed argument. I’m not claiming that those who support abortion are acting in vengence or even a “blood thirsty” manner as been suggested here for those that support capital punishment. There are good reasons to be against the death penalty. I don’t agree with them but they are not flawed arguments. The one that brings me close to being against the death penalty is that in the process of actually carrying out the death of another person, even if he’s a murderer, it’s an act that diminishes us. And it is, but weighed against the moral standard that is established by such a high penalty for a heinous crime, I fall on the side that it’s a net positive.

            • hamiltonr

              Manny, I would love to agree with your to get the discussion off this point of motivation, which is, in the final analysis unimportant. However, I can’t because I do not, in fact, agree with you.

              I have no trouble accepting and believing that you are are not motivated by vengeance to support the death penalty. However, you oughta see the comments I’ve deleted, see the letters and emails I have gotten and work, etc. You’d change your mind.

              • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

                Human beings get angry over injustice. That does not mean that legislators deliberating over a cultural value and establishing a consequence is vengence. The root emotion has been separated from the societal consequence. Would you consider your “life-in-jail-without-ever-getting-out” vengence? It’s just as much vengence as the death penalty.

                • hamiltonr

                  Legislators are just as prone to getting worked up over these crimes as other people. I certainly feel a call to vengeance when I read about the things these people do to other people. However, I think the life with parole thing is mainly — mainly — a matter of pragmatic necessity. I say “mainly” because my opinion that there should be no consideration of compassionately allowing someone to leave prison to die (I think the parole board was right to keep Squeaky Fromm in prison, even though she was terminally ill, as a for-instance.) does smack of vengeance. I honestly believe that some crimes require a sentence that goes the span of a person’s natural life. But that isn’t necessary to protect the public … so maybe it is vengeance.

      • pesq87

        “Killing people is not one of the higher functions of humanity.” Thanks, I will credit you when I use that line.

        • hamiltonr

          Thank you pesq87.

  • Howard

    By the way, here’s one aspect of the problem that is often overlooked: Even governments that do not have the death penalty kill people outside the judicial process — by means of police, or the military in some sort of security enforcement role. Eliminating the death penalty for people who have been tried by a jury and had access to appeals will do nothing to slow down extrajudicial killings; in fact, at least in some places (and the United States is one), there would probably be pressure to increase the number of people killed without benefit of a trial. As evidence, look at how many people already object to accused terrorists being allowed to stand trial — we are supposed to believe that they are neither criminals, subject to criminal law, nor prisoners of war, subject to those laws, but that they are perhaps not even really human, and are outside all laws altogether.

    • Nick_from_Detroit

      Howard,
      Are you aware of the origin of the word “outlaw”?
      There is a very good reason terrorists, spies, and saboteurs are treated differently. They are not felons, entitled to protections under criminal law. They are not lawful combatants, entitled to the protections of the laws of war. They are unlawful enemy combatants, entitled to a swift and speedy military tribunal (which is a trial).
      Have you ever read about the trial of Major Andre during the War of Independence?

      • Howard

        That, of course, presumes that they have already been “convicted” of being “terrorists, spies, and saboteurs”. (Spies, by the way, usually get trials. Have you ever read of the Walker family? Or Jonathan Pollard?)

        • Nick_from_Detroit

          Howard,
          Yes, I did presume a trial. My point was that there has been a long history of treating certain acts outside of the criminal and martial law systems, under the English common law tradition. Making war on civilians through terrorism certainly fits this criteria. God Bless!

          • Howard

            The American principle of separation of powers is a deliberate attempt to break out of some of those longstanding traditions in which the executive, legislative, and judicial powers are conflated. We have that for a reason; it is supposed to discourage rash or unjust decisions. I don’t think you would disagree that the trend has been to concentrate all power in the executive. There is a long American history of providing trials for presidential assassins — usually through the civil courts, I think Lincoln’s was the only exception — and of treating actual acts of terrorism (the Klan, the Mafia, Timothy McVeigh, etc.) in the civil courts, so it is not unreasonable to insist that we uphold the tradition of separation of powers.

            • Nick_from_Detroit

              Howard,
              This is not a separation of powers issue. General George Washington executed Major Andre under his Commander-in-Chief power. FDR executed the Nazi saboteurs (see Ex parte Quirin, et al, v. Cox) under his Commander-in-Chief power. They were tried by military commissions. There was no legislating involved.

              Also, assassinating a president does not involve making war on civilians, does it? The Klan and McVeigh should have faced military tribunals for their crimes. I don’t see how the Mafia was anything more than a civil criminal organization.
              Again, the U.S. has a long history, since our founding, of treating unlawful enemy combatants different from felons and prisoners of war. This is just a fact. God Bless!

    • AnneG

      Howard, Acts of terror, such as bombings of public spaces, kindappings, especially random and murders intended to intimidate and terrorize are defined in US and international law. Persons who commit such acts of irregular war are terrorists. As such, they are not regular soldiers, protected by laws of war. In fact, they are specifically identified as not having rights and protections of soldiers in war, much like spies. So, if you go onto an Army base where soldiers are being processed, yelling, “Allahu Ackbar” and shooting 39 people you are a terrorist. If you plant a bomb in a crowd at a public event, then run over your brother trying to get away, you are a terrorist.

      • Howard

        As below, during the Cold War we have given trials to those accused of being spies.

        The main problem with this attitude — aside from sweeping up the innocent along with the guilty or with taking a “kill ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out” attitude — is with what it makes us. Once we get used to thinking, “this class of people do not deserve any kind of process, and we can torture them as much as we like,” it will be impossible to put that genie back in the bottle, and more and more classes of people who don’t deserve due process will be discovered. WHICH WAS MY POINT.

      • Howard

        Oh, and there is a history of treating terrorist acts under the law. Charles J. Guiteau was tried for the assassination of President Garfield; Leon Czolgosz was tried for the assassination of President McKinley; John Hinckley, Jr., was tried for attempting to assassinate President Reagan; Richard Lawrence was tried for attempting to assassinate President Andrew Jackson (who repaid the attempt with a severe beating!); etc. The bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, which was assuredly terrorism, resulted in trials; so did the revolt of John Brown and the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building.

  • Donald Simmons

    As a Correctional Officer, a Christian, and a Pro-Life Proponent, I’m going to contradict what this article tries to imply. The article tries to take us from fighting for innocent life, to fighting for a criminals life who not only murdered, but raped, and tortured his victim with no remorse. To say you cannot kill to protect yourself or those around you is ludicrous. To say that an animal such as this man deserves a chance at life after he viciously took an innocent is not even close to being sane. Putting a murderer into a prison population only puts him in an environment within which his personality can thrive. He can murderer again. Other inmates as well as staff can become targets for such a man. He likes where he’s at because there is no boundaries within which he can be stopped or which he is governed. He will rape weaker inmates in prison. He will kill weaker inmates in prison. He will adapt and enjoy his life long stay, always thinking of a way to get out and to his dirty deeds on the street again. Lethal injection is a very humane way of executing an inmate. It’s not like electrocution, firing squad, hanging, etc. He simply goes to sleep. That’s much different from the actions he took upon his victims. The Bible makes clear that the shedding of innocent blood is an “abomination”. The original wording of the 10 commandments say “thou shalt not murder” rather than kill and if you’ll notice, not even Jesus ever ran into a prison and said, “Unchain that rapist….pat that thief on the back…let that murderer go.” Which is also the contrast of Barabbas and Jesus. Two extremes placed before the crowd and they did what…they failed the innocent and set the one deserving of death free…and we all know they made a mistake. Fortunately, the demonic world knew not what the shedding of His blood would do. The death penalty is there for a reason. It’s to protect us all and those weaker from someone like this who would rape, torture, and kill again. Those who are pro-life and reading this response may have a hard time wrapping their brain around being pro-death penalty for a murderer. Believe me, I’m as pro-life as they come…but the death penalty is just…I work with them…I see it. Better keep it.

    • hamiltonr

      Donald I agree with you that self-defense is a legitimate reason to use deadly force.

    • Nick_from_Detroit

      Mr. Simmons,
      Even rapists and murderers were made in the image and likeness of God. They are sinners, as are the rest of us. To call them animals brings us down to their level, don’t you think? Christ said to love our enemies.
      Is it easy? Of course not! But, Christ never said it would be.
      It’s easy to love Mother Teresa and the Rev. Billy Graham, right? How about Charles Manson and Kermit Gosnell? Not so much, eh?
      I constantly struggle with this. I admit I took a little delight when I first heard that Locket might have suffered at his execution. But, I know that is wrong and not Christian behavior. It was me giving into my fallen nature.
      None of us will receive justice in this life. Perfect justice comes from God at the Last Judgement.
      In this life, Christ desires to pour out His Divine Mercy on even the worst criminals, if only they will except it. Pray that He may use you to help those whom you guard find their way to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
      God Bless!

      • bill b

        Nick,
        According to Dei Verbum in Vatican II, Romans 13:4 ultimately has Christ as its author. Here it is on the state:
        ” for it is a servant of God for your good. But if you do evil, be afraid, for it does not bear the sword without purpose; it is the servant of God to inflict wrath on the evildoer.”
        Here is Vatican II’s Dei Verbum / chapter 3 section 11: ” the books of both the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, with all their parts, are sacred and canonical because written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself..”
        So Christ as ultimate author of Romans 13:4 is saying the state does have a role in inflicting wrath with the sword which word is a synecdoche which means all punishments up to and including death. Had God meant to have the state fall short of death, the passage could easily have used “scourge” etc. instead as the apposite synecdoche.

        • Nick_from_Detroit

          Bill B,
          Please, read my other posts. You’ll see that I’m not against the state putting criminals to death. I’m against how the death penalty is implemented in this country. God Bless!

          • bill b

            Do you think it was implemented in the Roman empire perfectly? It killed Christ and James unjustly yet God inspires Romans 13:4 just decades later.

            • Nick_from_Detroit

              Bill B,
              I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make. I never used the word “perfectly,” did I?
              I agree with the Catholic teaching found in the CCC concerning capital punishment. I agree with Saint Paul’s exhortation to obey our rulers.
              Do you agree that states which implement the death penalty should follow the Biblical command to have multiple witnesses (Dt.17:6)?
              States also don’t implement C.P. equitably. In the same state you can have one multiple murdered get 25 to life, and another guy who killed just one person get death. How is that just?

      • pagansister

        Perfect justice may come from God at a last judgement, but man can help some get to their Perfect Judgement when necessary. This man deserved to be sent early for his horrendous actions to an innocent woman, IMO.

        • Nick_from_Detroit

          I must have missed Christ’s command to “help some get to their Perfect Judgment,” Pagansister.
          I do, though, remember Christ saying, “I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” (Mt.25:36)
          Plus, we all deserve death for our sins. Christ died for them. If you read my other posts, you’ll see that I’m not against the death penalty. Just how it is implemented.
          God Bless!

          • pagansister

            Understand. :-)

    • pagansister

      Thank you for an insider’s view of this situation. I so agree with your conclusion of keeping this option open for some crimes.

    • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

      So keep him out of the prison population. Give him a video link to his Father Confessor, a steady diet of 1950s morality plays, and food sent in by airlock, and otherwise no human contact. Call it “Death Penalty by Old Age”- a 20-80 year execution, with no physical contact with another human being ever.

      In fact, keep it going. When he’s dead, fill his cell with concrete and leave it.

    • http://www.lightofhumanreason.com/ Light of Human Reason

      Very well said. Not only is it right and just to put a man like this to death; it’s also better for public safety.

  • filiusdextris

    We have to keep hope for the conversion of all souls, including those who are locked up in prison for life. Having sympathy for them is likely a necessary ingredient, and it would behoove everyone to try and find some. If my great sins were punishable with jail time, I too might be locked up for life, and I was likely given many more talents/gifts than Mr. Locket (etc.) As a consequence, I don’t even dare to condemn the guilty murderer for fear of invoking God’s wrath on me except inasmuch as we have to keep everyone safe (as you correctly point out, “necessity”). Once we are ever able to determine that someone is in prison beyond necessity, we are likely sinning if we consent to it. Obviously we can never know, but in some cases there are strong signs like disease, good behavior, etc. If God still tries to convert their hearts, who are we to obstruct God?

    • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

      “Beyond necessity?” How do you define that? Christ said to turn the other cheek and forgive 77 times over. That means that no one should spend a single day in prison as long as they offer an apology. The very act of a penal system violates Christ’s commands if you think those commands were not only for individuals but for society.

      • filiusdextris

        Forgiveness does not conflate with prudential determinations of necessity. Are you trying to pretend that I have argued that?

        We have a duty to ensure that people who do not need to be in jail are not in jail. We Americans have done a good job complying with that duty by making parole recommendations along established guidelines. If we were somehow to revert to a “throw away the key” mentality, agreement with that stance strikes me as sinful, as it denies the human heart’s ability to turn. Sometimes, the danger outweighs the outward signs of conversion, so we can’t properly let a possibly rehabilitated criminal go, but if we’re not even looking with open hearts and minds, we are likely sinning. To be absurd perhaps, but also to prove a point, if God spoke from the heavens to say, “Xi is safe and repentant; let X free,” I hope we would comply. Even with lesser signs of conversion, I hope we would be open to giving a good look at release to have another productive member of society building us up.

        • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

          So if someone kills a person and is truly, truly, sincerely sorry and it is evident he will never kill again, even confesses sincerely to a priest, he goes free without even a day of jail? That is not justice. That is insane. You tell that to the parents of the murdered child.

  • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

    We really need a “Death Penalty by Old Age with No Medical Treatment” law.

  • Howard

    I am willing to go this far: I would support a law that allowed a sentence of death for those guilty of heinous crimes, but would automatically commute their sentences to life in prison if the papal nuncio requested it explicitly, giving the name of the criminal, the nature of the crime, and the name of the victim(s).

    What is the difference between that and just removing the death penalty from the law? Basically the difference between someone going free because he has been pardoned and going free because the police refuse to do their duty.

  • Katiedidittwo2

    I say take them out of their misery so they never murder again. Why spend tax dollars on those who have no respect for life and would kill again given the chance and he would have! Justice was served and it came wayyyyyyy to late!

    • Nick_from_Detroit

      Actually, Katie, it costs more to execute criminals, with all of their appeals, than it does to feed and clothe them for life. God Bless!

      • pagansister

        Money should not be a reason to not carry out a death sentence.

        • Nick_from_Detroit

          I didn’t assert that it should. I was correcting Katie’s mistaken premise that tax dollars would be saved by executing murderers.

          • pagansister

            Misunderstood.

  • Katiedidittwo2

    Jesus died for the sinner and we do have people we need to protect. A cold blooded killer murder is not one of them and who knows, Lockett may get his reprieve yet. But it sounds like he had decided to give his soul to satan.

  • DeaconJohnMBresnahan

    I am against capital punishment. But before it is completely done away with 2 problems need solution. Unfortunately those against cap punishment run away from the two issues and rarely are even willing to discuss them.
    The first problem is that the solution the anti-cap people always promote –life in prison-results in far more deaths than those legally executed.
    I refer to the hard to find statistic (purposely buried by the media????) of the number of prison guards murdered by murderers in prison–as well as other prisoners murdered. According to the statistic I could find, an average of 8-10 prison guards are murdered in prison–usually by incarcerated murderers. Add to that other prisoners murdered by jailed murderers and you have quite a long list including the Boston Strangler, and a priest in jail for abuse, and a drunk teen-ager put in a cell with a murderer.
    The second problem is that in some states the only way a lifer stays in prison is if the family of the murder victim goes each year or two to relive the horror of their loved one’s death before a parole board. Talk about an obscene horror for the victim’s family
    How these two problems can be resolved I do not know. But I do know they will never be resolved if they are never part of the cap punishment debate.

  • http://baronvonkorf.blogspot.com Baron Korf

    Not murder.

    “Another kind of lawful slaying belongs to the civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent. The just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this Commandment which prohibits murder. The end of the Commandment- is the preservation and security of human life. Now the punishments inflicted by the civil authority, which is the legitimate avenger of crime, naturally tend to this end, since they give security to life by repressing outrage and violence. Hence these words of David: In the morning I put to death all the wicked of the land, that I might cut off all the workers of iniquity from the city of the Lord.” Roman Catechism


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