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Journal DumbSwede's Journal: Drawing the Lines

April 28th, 2005 I posted a journal entry entitled: Response to KJ's "Death To A Traitor" . In it I had posted some very pragmatic reasons for being against the death penalty, but today there is a CNN.com news story: "Midnight execution looms for killer, 76"

Last appeal rejected for California's oldest death row inmate
Monday, January 16, 2006; Posted: 7:39 p.m. EST (00:39 GMT)
SAN FRANCISCO, California (AP) -- The U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal Monday from a 76-year-old convicted killer who argued that he was too old and feeble to be executed

The ruling cleared the way for Clarence Ray Allen -- legally blind, nearly deaf and in a wheelchair -- to be executed by injection early Tuesday for a triple murder he ordered from behind bars to silence witnesses to another killing.

Today's arguments aren't about pragmatism however and more about the murky moral issues.

Life always seems to make these things a hard call. It seems morally repugnant to execute a frail legally blind crippled elderly man regardless of what he has done to deserve it. The same thing happens on the other end of the spectrum where children as young as 16 years old have been executed. Though to be fair that was back in the 40's. Currently Thomas E. Bevel at 24 years old is the youngest age death row inmate awaiting execution, though Randy Schoenwetter sentenced in 2000 at age 18 may be the youngest convicted and currently sitting on death row. So where do we draw the lines? Never too old, never too frail to be executed? Is 18 a good bottom bound on someone old enough? Why not 17, 16, or 15? How about an 18 or 19 year-old, but with the emotional maturity of a 15 year old? You wouldn't have to be legally mentally retarded to meet that definition.

It's odd that there don't seem to be a host of celebrities lining up to decry Clarence's death penalty like they did for Stanley "Tookie" Williams. Now in general I'm against death penalty, but Tookie seemed an odd poster-child for its misapplication. Tookie had supposedly changed while on death row however, so unfair to execute him. Tookie never "ratted" on his gang member friends, I would take this as an implicit approval of the gang-member life style, so I remain confused how he achieved redemption in the minds of so many. Tookie spent 28 years on death row, Allen has spent 23 years, both well over the 12-year average. But who doesn't change in 20+ years?

Every seven years on average every cell in your body is replaced, sometimes replaced with new cells, sometimes just chemically replaced as atoms and molecules flow in and out and are metabolically and constructively consumed. Materially, chemically, atomically these men aren't the same, but most assume there is some immutable soul attached to the body that awaits judgment. Scientifically however there is little proof that our identities extending beyond our genetic predispositions and the memories acquired by acting on them in response to our environment. Our genes we have no control over, our environment we have little control over during formative years.

So how to decide fairly. Who is truly redeemed and who is just acting? It seems a poor argument to make that Tookie had "changed" since this means you would almost certainly execute those who have truly changed inside, but haven't the celebrity cheering section to make their appeal to the public.

While I'm against the death penalty for just these reasons and many more, as long as we have it, I would never pardon for reason of redemption, to do this makes the system even more capricious, it even puts a lie to the reason for capital punishment - deterrence. We are then saying "Kill and you will be killed. Unless of course you can really-really convince us you are really-really sorry and have become a really-really good person."

No matter where you draw the lines there will always be cases right on them that make us uncomfortable. I would say that discomfort is a good indication that its is best not to draw the lines at all.

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Drawing the Lines

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