“Courage Personified: Anthony Sanchez”
In our day, courage is an interesting cultural phenomenon. It’s sort of a linguistical mirage. Everybody talks about it…but nobody seems to actually know the fullness of what they describe. It is a partial without the perfect. For a very long time, I knew the partial. Then, I met the perfect.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus the Christ is drowning in a world of sorrow. Knowing that society is determined to kill him, Jesus asks those that he trusts to sit and watch with him…to engage what is to come.
When I met Anthony Sanchez, I assumed that I was meeting someone who had sexually assaulted and murdered a beautiful young woman named Juli Busken (peace be upon her memory and all who love her). Even though Sanchez passionately claimed otherwise, I assumed that he was just as guilty as a wide variety of other people that I’ve met in my work on various death rows as a spiritual advisor. I was wrong. Time has revealed new truths. I investigated for myself. I read the transcripts. I engaged the witnesses. I sought out experts. Slowly, I came to a surprising conclusion…there was an innocent man on death row in Oklahoma. Injustice was metastasizing by the day. I knew that it was my duty to sit and watch with him…to stand guard against an approaching moral catastrophe.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus the Christ knew that he was the victim of a society determined to extract blood from an innocent man. Throughout human history, people seem determined to destroy that which is righteous and just. Instead of fleeing, Jesus remained in the Garden. On his knees, Jesus prays in anguish, “Is there any other way?”
From the beginning, Anthony Sanchez has known that his execution is more than possible. When people on death row find their back against the wall, most are willing to say or do whatever it takes to save their life. Sanchez is different. From the beginning, he told me that he was not going to compromise his claims of innocence under any circumstance. When the clemency hearing came up, Sanchez told me that he was not going to participate in any sort of hearing that would not allow him to center his innocence. When his attorneys came up, Sanchez told me that he had absolutely no use for them because they didn’t believe in his innocence and had rarely communicated with him over the years. When the possibility of execution came up, Sanchez told me that he would rather die than waiver in his declaration of innocence. I believe him. Surely, no life is not worth living if you lose your soul in the process. The more that I heard the more that I realized what my job was…remain steadfast in supporting Sanchez in his convictions while doing all that I can lead a campaign to save his life.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus offered no physical resistance. He simply questioned the process, proclaimed his innocence and demanded justice. Injustice has a way of creating insurmountable processes amid assumptions or assignments of guilt. Unquestionably, Oklahoma is one of the epicenters of injustice with regards to the death penalty.
In recent months, Anthony Sanchez has shown incredible strength. Realizing that any clemency hearing would involve the State of Oklahoma declaring him to be a monster, his own attorneys refusing to advocate wholeheartedly for his innocence and him participating in a process that was/is insurmountably stacked against him if he, Sanchez decided that he was going reject his potential clemency hearing. Even if it meant that he was giving up an opportunity to beg for his life, Sanchez was going to stick with his convictions. Repeatedly he has declared, “l would rather remain silent than ask for forgiveness or beg for mercy for something that I didn’t do.” For nearly 6 years, Sanchez’s attorneys have remained silent in the midst of his constant pleas of innocence. Unable to comprehend their inaction in any other way, Sanchez has come to a belief that they want him to be executed. Even if that isn’t true, there seems to be little doubt that they have made or are going to make any effort to save his life. Instead of simply rolling over and taking their neglect, Sanchez made the decision to fire them and act as his own attorney in the final months of his life. Repeatedly he has declared, “I refuse to stand with anyone who will not stand with me.” It is important to note that Sanchez is not dense to what his decisions could mean. The possibility of his execution looms large over every decision he makes. However, that’s not his primary concern. Repeatedly, Sanchez has declared, “I would rather die standing on my feet in the knowledge of my innocence than begging on my knees for something that I didn’t do.”
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus the Christ knew what was likely. In the midst of such certainty, Jesus refused to move or even beg for his life. His convictions mattered much more to him than his life. Of course, we know what happened to Jesus the Christ. In an extreme act of injustice, Jesus was executed by the State.
Presently, I choose to have the faith that the outcome that Jesus the Christ met will not be met by Anthony Sanchez. Indeed, there is an entire campaign working harder and harder daily to secure such a result (through a variety of nontraditional processes). I think the parallels between Jesus’ Garden of Gethsemane moment to Sanchez’s current moment are too stark to be ignored. No matter what the cost, Jesus stuck by his principles, even to his detriment. Presently, the decisions that Sanchez has made are based on his principles, even to his possible detriment. Sanchez is an innocent man who refuses to act like a guilty one. He demands justice and justice alone. Such stands are the epitome of courage. Without a doubt, Sanchez’s denial of clemency due to the injustice of the process, his firing of his attorneys based on their inability to work for his best interests and his refusal to compromise in his certainty of his innocence, place him amongst the most courageous people to ever approach execution in Oklahoma, perhaps even anywhere. Sometimes, courage is not a mirage. As Anthony Sanchez’s execution date draws closer, I hope we are wiser with him than we were with Christ.