I’m opposed to the death penalty. It’s not a proper deterrent, it risks killing the innocent and it’s applied in a haphazard manner, depending on someone’s income, legal advice, appeal to the jury and especially the colour of their skin. At a base level as well, something in me finds it repulsive that a government can strap a person to a bed to inject them with poison and call it justice. However, it’s still not a simple issue, and there are cases that make me question my assumptions. Today I want to look at three different cases from around the world. They’re all very different, and ask some extremely tough questions.
A repentant woman?
The first case is the US state of Georgia, where their only female death row inmate is on the verge of execution. Kelly Gissendaner’s lethal injection was postponed Monday night after the drug appeared to look ‘cloudy‘. The execution is already a controversial one though. The reason for this is that Gissendaner is a repentant woman. After being sentenced to death for convincing her boyfriend to kill her husband in 1997, she became a Christian. Since then ministers and guards in the prison have testified to her deep regret and positive influence on her fellow prisoners. She has talked inmates out of suicide and one guard even described her as “the kind of inmate we need in our institutions”. The man who actually murdered her husband will meanwhile be up for parole in eight years time – a perfect example of the flaws in the way the death penalty is applied
By executing Gissendaner, the prison loses someone who has changed the place for the better. Should we look at her as a different woman than the one who committed murder 18 years ago? Instead this execution sends the message that no repentance, no changed life, is enough to redeem yourself. When you think about it, what does the state – or anyone – gain by killing this woman?
A business transaction
However, what if the death penalty did have a point in some situations? As the link at the top shows, the death penalty isn’t seen by experts as a deterrent for murder. If you’re taking a life, rational consideration of the chances of death vs. prison generally isn’t going to enter into it. But what about the crime of drug smuggling? This is something people will consider carefully. It’s a business transaction, where the smugglers have to weigh up the profit they’ll gain vs. the potential costs. And when you’re smuggling drugs to Indonesia, everyone knows the most likely penalty is death.
This is the choice two Australians made, and Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran are about to pay the price. While there has been a campaign for their pardon in Australia, with Tony Abbott weighing in in his usual blunt manner, Indonesia insists that their harsh laws are necessary as a deterrent for drug smugglers. Despite my opposition to the death penalty, I can sort of understand this argument. Chan and Sukumaran – while now repentant – knew exactly what risk they were taking when they decided to smuggle drugs in another country, and they decided that 4 million dollars was worth the risk. So if the death penalty could work as a deterrent, and was carried out on people who knew for sure what the consequences would be, is it then sometimes justified?
The last case is one of the most brutal crimes to ever make the news, the gang rape of a woman in a Delhi bus in 2012 (Warning: the article is disturbing). The victim was raped by at least six men, before being mutilated by an iron bar. She died of her injuries days later. The details are the sort of thing that you wish you had never read. And yet the man who kept driving the bus throughout the rape, and even joined in, has said in an interview – that is now causing controversy – that he doesn’t think he did anything wrong. He said that women are more responsible for rape than men, that it was her fault for being out late, and that she should have allowed the rape to avoid being murdered. All this after recounting the crime and his part in it in detail.
What can you say? Most people reading that interview would scream for him to be hanged immediately. The cases in Georgia and Bali are able to be debated rationally, but in this case the cruelty and the lack of remorse overwhelms any ‘rational’ thought. It seems unbearable that that man not be killed, everything in us cries out for it. But is that who we want to be? Are executions justice or revenge? Can you support the death penalty for some cases, but not for others? Am I a hypocrite if I say that I want that man to die?
I don’t know.