Saturday, 23 August 2008

To kill the killers?

Reading the reports from Boise Idaho whilst the jury deliberate on the fate of convicted paedophile and child murderer Joseph Duncan III, I suspect that most of us, were we to find ourselves on that jury would find it hard not to vote for his execution. The details of the crime are truly horrific. Having bludgeoned their mother, prospective step father and 13 year elder brother to death, Duncan kidnapped two young children and subjected them to weeks of torture and sexual abuse, culminating in the torture and murder of the 9 year old boy in front if his eight year old sister.

The court were left in little doubt of Duncan's guilt, as he had filmed much of the abuse, including scenes of extreme violence where he had screamed at his young victims that he was the devil and that he enjoyed seeing little children suffer.

As the film was played to the weeping jury who are charges with deciding whether he should die, or spend the rest of his life in prison, I suspect that there is little doubt as to what their final verdict will be. However, irrespective of the actual outcome, it is hard to imagine what possible benefit society will gain from keeping someone like Joseph Duncan alive any longer that it takes to ensure that he is made fully aware that he is going to die and that he is going to Hell.

Of course, many would argue Joseph Duncan III is not the example one should consider when judging the rights and wrongs of the death penalty, for he is a man who is unquestionably guilty, and self evidently evil. In the wider context, only a minority of killers fit the monster costume quite so snugly.

There are many reasons why people kill, none are forgivable, but not all killers are as irredeemably damned as Joseph Duncan.

I have long been ambivalent as to the rights and wrongs of the death penalty, not only for the reasons most often given in its opposition, namely the fact that innocent people have been convicted and indeed executed.

but also, because I doubt it's effectiveness as a deterrent. Certainly from my own point of view, were I to be convicted of murder I would consider death only slightly less attractive than spending the rest of my life in prison.

I speak there as a woman, but, were I a man, and looking at the type of existence I would face in a male prison, especially in America , I have little doubt that death would seem a far kinder option.

Another argument against the death penalty is that it is one of those decisions which should never be left to a politician or made for crowd pleasing reasons. America has the death penalty today because of politicians who pandered to public opinion and many believe that if the British public had their way the hangman would be back in business.

However, who would they hang?

Consider for a moment the opinion much of the British public have of Maxine Carr, a woman, in fact guilty only of giving the man she loved, and wrongly believed innocent, a false alibi. However, in the mind of the many, unable to see beyond the image of the two children her lover killed, Carr has become a monster often spoken of in the same breath as Rose West and Myra Hindley. Were her fate to be left to the Madame Defarges in the public galery it would not be a happy one.

Maxine Carer killed nobody, but what of others who did? Should public opinion have been allowed to decide the fate of the children who tortured and murdered the Liverpool toddler Jamie Bulger? How many could step back from the horror of that killing and see the killers for what they were, two ten year old boys, evil and demonic ten year old boys but ten year old boys all the same.

As the killers, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, were taken to court crowds attacked the police vans, and one has to wonder what would have happened had the mob got their hands on those children.

Politics, race and news management play a large part in how we view criminals, it is claimed that in the past black people were likely to be punished more severely for their crimes to placate public opinion. If that is so, then one must condemn it for no life should be taken to satisfy a prejudice. However, one only has to look at the yelling politically motivated crowds mobbing the courts in Philadelphia where three white boys are accused of killing a Hispanic paedophile (whom the US press refuse to call a paedophile on account of his race) or those who picketed North Carolina's Duke University after false rape claims were made against three Lacrosse players in 2006, to know that racist mob justice comes in many shades in the 21st Century.

As society, we must never allow the law of the mob to decide what is justice.

Thou shalt not kill states the commandment and we can not change that by pretending it said “Thou shall not commit murder”. Death is final, and once a man has been executed he can not be brought back to life, mistakes can not be put right.

However, for all my good intentions and all my right sounding words, I look at the picture of Joseph Duncan and that of the 9 year old boy he hung by the neck, whilst beating him with a belt, before “accidentally” eviscerating him, then shooting him in the head and burning his battered little body in front of the child's younger sister, and find it hard to believe a civilised society could keep such a creature alive.

In Britain, Zeeshan Shahid, Imran Shahid and Mohammed Mushtaq, the men who kidnapped and tortured 14 year Kriss Donald before setting him on fire whilst he was still alive remain in prison, fed, clothed and sheltered by the tax payers, still able to see and touch family members in a way that Kriss's mother can not see or touch the son they stole from her. What benefit does society gain from the many thousands already spent, and many more still to be spent in keeping them alive?

If the Tennessee eventually summon up the courage to try those accused of the rape, torture and murder of Christopher Newsom and Channon Christian and if they are found to have done what they are alleged to have done to those two young people, would it be justice to let them live?

I can ask myself these questions in the face of my fine words, but can only answer, I don't know.
Update: I have added a poll in the right hand column of the blog where people can express their views on the death penalty

7 comments: said...

Thou Shalt Not Kill Who?

Specific laws which follow from the love law can be better understood by keeping the ingroup definition of neighbor in mind. Consider the proto-legal portion of The Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5:17-21; JPS '17 & KJV):

Thou shalt not kill.
Neither shalt thou commit adultery.
Neither shalt thou steal.
Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbour
Neither shall you covet your neighbor's wife and you shall not desire your neighbor's
house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or anything that
is your neighbor's.

And add the realization that the scrolls from which these words were translated have no periods, no commas, and no first-word capitalization. Decisions about where sentences and paragraphs begin and end are courtesy of the translator. Accordingly, instead of being written as five separate paragraphs of one sentence each, without changing any of the words, Deuteronomy 5:17-21 could be translated:

Thou shalt not kill, neither shalt thou commit adultery, neither shalt thou steal, neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbour. Neither shall you covet your neighbor's wife, and you shall not desire your neighbor's house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor's.

Here the question, "Thou shalt not kill who?" is answered "Thou shalt not kill thy neighbor — the children of thy people, your countrymen" … your fellow in-group member.

How unconventional is this interpretation? Not very. The rabbis of the Talmud determined that an Israelite was not liable for murder unless he intentionally killed a fellow Israelite.

Vanishing American said...

It is not a matter of 'pretending' that the commandment reads 'thou shalt not murder.' That is the original reading of it; the translation 'thou shalt not kill' is imprecise. Anybody interested may google the phrases.

The Bible says in a number of places that murderers shall be put to death. It is just unequivocal. Of course exceptions were made for unintentional deaths, accidents, whatever, but then those are by definition not 'murder' so they would not require capital punishment.

The reason why the U.S. still has the death penalty is not because of pandering politicians but because the consensus in this country still favors capital punishment, despite the loud voices from liberal opponents of it. And that's how our laws are supposed to work here; the will of the people is to be the governing principle, not the arbitrary rulings of unelected judges.

And Christianity is still the basis of our legal and moral rules in this country; most people are Christians here even if rather uninformed ones or casual ones. Our media give the false impression that liberalism is our new religion.

As to death being a deterrent, it most assuredly deters the murderer from repeating his acts -- provided the sentence is carried out expeditiously. However as defense attorneys file appeal after appeal, some killers escape and kill again, for example, Ted Bundy.

If 'bias' invalidates the death penalty, or if the fact that mistakes can happen makes it unjust, then we have to discard the legal system altogether, because it cannot be carried out without mistakes.

All human institutions are fallible; we can't demand an unrealistic perfection in order to have a justice system or legal punishments.

Anonymous said...

Celtic Morning, As a general rule, men and women have a very different outlook on life and death. As a man, I believe that in most cases a person who takes the life of another should forfeit his/her own. Obviously there are such things as mercy killings of a loved one, by a loved one, domestic killings due to despair or a monetary rage. There are extenuating cricumstances. But apart from cases such as these I am convinced that those who take life should lose their own. In these days of DNA there should be far less chances of a miscarriage of justice and when there is no doubt of guilt then death should follow very quickly for those convicted. In such vile cases as child murder, sadistic murder, with many horrific actions too horrible for a normal human to contemplate then retribution must surely follow and must be satisfying to most people with a balanced outlook. Those who argue against the state taking a life cannot deny that the state has always taken life and always will in the form of the soldier and the civilian victim of action on behalf of the state. The executed individuals, later claimed to have been innocent,are very few and far between compared to the many millions of victims of state aggression. While even one such is one too many, it is a price which will be ever more unlikely with modern methods of evidence gathering. It is fairly pointless to quote the bible on this matter, you can prove any case by carefully selecting the chapter and verse. I believe that when we take another life then,in most cases, we forfeit any right to our own and the world is a better place without such evil monsters. In the examples highlighted by Sarah, surely even the most liberal soul would be tempted to cry, loud and clear, "hang the bastards."

Anonymous said...

Celtic Morning. Monetary should have read momentary. Sorry about that!

Anonymous said...

Celtic Morning. As an afterthought,a TV documentary showed that when Ted Bundy was eventually executed for his crimes the mass demonstration outside the prison was overwhelmingly in favour and I think the crowd even cheered when it was announced that he was dead. Public opinion and behaviour hasn't altered all that much from the days of public executions at Tyburn!! It's a pretty basic, and natural reaction. Those who opposed the execution were in a very small minority. Maybe, just in these cases, we could learn something from the much despised Islam..The will of the people, worldwide, is for the death penalty but as we know, all too often the politicians, democratically elected to carry out that will, simply ignore it. There are many flaws in the democratic process.

alanorei said...

The Lord said "Thou shalt do no murder" in Matthew 19:18. As the original Law Giver, He was giving His application of the earlier commandment.

That He endorsed capital punishment for capital crime is apparent from Luke 23:39-43, i.e. silence is consent. None of His statements from the cross run contrary to the capital punishment of the two men crucified with Him.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I am one individual who cannot possibly agree with your well-meaning, but somewhat misguided sentiments.

Firstly, the public are not mob-driven primitives unable to arrive at appropriate conclusions in deciding punishment outcomes. Government policies in relation to societal issues, must always be those sanctioned by the people, not those the ruling elite themselves concoct to suit their own self-serving ends.

Secondly, I believe the rest of society has an inherent right to act as judge and jury on the question of criminality since criminals are offending against others who comprise society, ie their victims.

Thirdly, where calculating and cold-blooded murder is concerned, the rest of society has the right to seek recompense against a criminal or criminals on behalf of the victim or victims, most especially murdered victims and that includes demanding that the murderer or murderers forfeit his/her/their life in reparation for his/her/their crime(s) of taking the life or lives of others, quite apart from that other inherent right to refuse to bear the cost of subsidising a criminal's incarceration and unjustly deserved humane treatment.

I would go further and advocate that cold-blooded murderers should meet the same death they metted out to their victims, AND no, executing murderers doesn't breed a violent society. To the contrary, looking back at various Western societies prior to the present era commencing with the 1960s, strongly suggests that society then was far more orderly and law-abiding. In other words, far less crime-ridden.

In passing, religious beliefs should not be allowed to influence political or judicial decision-making processes.