Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The book that changed my view on capital punishment

As I stated in my last post, it was the book "The Innocent Man" by John Grisham which changed my stance on capital punishment. For me, it was an epiphany. I began to realize that in many places here in the U.S., we have a corrupt justice system which really goes out of its way to deny justice to those who are poor and innocent. We have too many District Attorneys who are trying to make a name for themselves, or just want to close the book on a case so it will make them look even more successful, winning another conviction, and ridding our streets of the criminal element. Would that were always the case, because all too often, they rid our streets and neighborhoods of innocent men and women. 

I'll let you read this review posted by Charles Hamilton Sr., former executive director of Northwest Teen Challenge, and then I leave you with some parting thoughts.
The Innocent Man is John Grisham's only non-fiction book. He says he chose to write it because it was a compelling story about a man on death row, sentenced to die for a murder he did not commit. The man, Ron Williamson, signed a contract with the Oakland A's and thought his life was going to be set as a major league baseball player.
After some setbacks at the farm system level, Ron came back to his hometown of Ada, Oklahoma, a failure. Embarrassed at not making it in the big leagues, he began to hang out in bars and drink heavily. It's in this setting where he met a young waitress named Debbie Carter.
When Debbie's body turns up in her apartment having been brutally raped and murdered, Ron is charged with the crime. 
 After five years of looking for Debbie's killer and nothing but dead-ends, the authorities arrest Ron Williamson and his friend, Dennis Fritz, for her murder. 
Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz celebrating
their release from prison.
One small detail seems to elude the police and prosecutors: The fact that Ron Williamson is  innocent. Both men are tried and found guilty as the prosecutors use junk science and the testimony of jailhouse snithches to convict them. Fritz was given a life sentence, while Ron was sent to death row.

Grisham goes on to tell of Ron's struggles with mental health and the horrible conditions of his tenure in prison while on death row. So often while reading this book, you find yourself appalled by the tactics used by the authorities to manipulate any attempt at justice and the roadblocks that purposely erect to keep Ron incarcerated on death row.

There is a feeling of pending futility sitting in a cell awaiting your death for something you didn't do. You want to scream loudly for someone, anyone, to come to your rescue and stop the painful anxiety driving you to madness as each day brings you closer to the date of your final demise. I found myself pulling for Ron to receive true justice and be released from prison so he could begin to put the broken pieces of his life together again.

John Grisham does a worthy job of presenting Ron's life and struggles. He reports the findings of the case as they happened and at the same time interjects the emotional deprivation experienced by the family as they prayed for Ron's release. 
I wanted to see the men who railroaded Ron onto death row through their false testimonies and manipulation of evidence thrown in jail or disbarred from any future involvementin pursuing his continued incarceration dealt with by the law, either themselves thrown in jail or disbarred from any future involvement in the criminal justice system. There is no adequate compensation for taking a person's life away from them. You cannot buy back one hour of your youth once it has been stolen from you by an unjust judicial system. 
I still support capital punishment. I still believe that God's covenant with Noah is Genesis 9:6 is an everlasting covenant that is still in effect today (as far as God is concerned). But now, I support the death penalty only in those cases where there is clear DNA evidence linking the murderer or rapist with the victim(s). 

In my next and final post on this subject, I will briefly discuss some of the shortcomings of current 
DNA access laws as well as spotlight some individuals who were unjustly incarcerated and have been given justice and freedom thanks to the efforts of the Innocence Project. I am thankful for the tireless and dedicated efforts of the lawyers who work for the Innocence Project all across this country. In a real sense, they are encountering Jesus and showing "pure, undefiled religion" which includes visiting those in prison. How high of a priority is that in most of our churches today? 

And how, might you ask, do these secular (and in many cases, unbelieving) lawyers encounter Jesus? Read these verses from Matthew....

Matthew 25:34-40 (GW)
34 “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, my Father has blessed you! Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.
35 I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger, and you took me into your home.
36 I needed clothes, and you gave me something to wear. I was sick, and you took care of me. I was in prison, and you visited me.'
37 “Then the people who have God's approval will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you or see you thirsty and give you something to drink?
38 When did we see you as a stranger and take you into our homes or see you in need of clothes and give you something to wear?
39 When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?'
40 “The king will answer them, ‘I can guarantee this truth: Whatever you did for one of my brothers or sisters, no matter how unimportant {they seemed}, you did for me.'

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