fact that Texas recently executed another prisoner in its custody
isn't really news. Nonetheless, the media picked up on the story
because it's the lone star states 400th killing, and on this occasion
the European Union took the unusual step of requesting that Texas
cease the practice of carrying out executions altogether.
The United States has put to death 1,089 people since the Supreme
Court lifted a ban on capital punishment in 1976. Since then the
State of Texas has lead the way claiming 400 of those killings,
131 of those under George W. Bush in his tenure as governor.
Lethal injection is the preferred method of execution, but the
electric chair and gas chamber remain an option. Firing squads
and hangings might sound barbaric, but those methods were used
to kill 5 people in the United States as recently as 1996. In fact,
it was only in 2001 that the Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional
to put to death mentally retarded individuals. Following that,
in 2005 the Supreme Court concluded that it was unconstitutional
to execute anyone who was under the age of 18 when they committed
Johnny Ray Conner was executed in Texas on Wednesday for the 1998
fatal shooting of a grocery store clerk, Kathyanna
Gon Thi Nguyen. Conner always denied the charge and in
2005, a judge overturned Conner's death sentence and ordered a
retrial, saying Conner's lawyers had been ineffective. In January
a federal appeals court reversed that decision.
Without a doubt it is a tragedy that Kathyanna Gon Thi Nguyen
was shot and killed. But I'm unconvinced that a state sanctioned
murder of her killer has redressed the balance or served any real
Supporters of the death penalty often cite the Bible verse, "An
eye for an eye", as some kind of divine justification.
But the same book also says that God himself said "Vengeance
is mine, I will repay."
So where is the moral directive for justice? Upon what did we
base our judgement that killing is wrong? If it was wrong of Ray
Conner to kill Kathyanna Gon Thi Nguyen, why then was it right
for the state of Texas to kill Ray Conner?
the family of Conner's victim feels better now that her killer
is himself dead. But is it the job of the judiciary system to exact
revenge in such a way? In effect, are we to believe that in this
case two wrongs have made a right?
Conner was in jail for the crime of murder. He no longer posed
a significant threat to people of Texas. One day he might have
been released, and I will agree that such a prospect seems utterly
unthinkable when one considers that his victim is dead. But in
killing Conner isn't the State of Texas simply demonstrating the
fact that it simply doesn't believe in it's own rehabilitation
Perhaps execution is justice. Maybe killing a killer serves as
a warning to other would be murderers that the same fate awaits
them should they be caught. However, as the President of the European
out, there seems to be absolutely no evidence from any quarter
that the death penalty serves as an effective deterrent. Most murders
are not the result of a calculated well thought out process of
If justice is equal handed then one thing troubles me about the
death penalty; how come there have been so few executions compared
to the number of crimes that are potentially punishable by death?
I understand that the process of law takes time, but in the state
of Texas alone there were 55,902 murders between 1976 and 2005
and yet only 355 executions. How is there such a vast difference
between the numbers of crime and so-called justice?
v. Georgia, the 1972 US Supreme Court case that resulted
in a temporary end to executions, it was concluded that the death
penalty was "cruel and unusual punishment" proscribed
by the Eighth Amendment as incompatible with the evolving standards
of decency in modern society. Back then Justice Potter Stewart
wrote "These death sentences are cruel and unusual in the
same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual. For,
of all the people convicted of rapes and murders in 1967 and 1968,
many just as reprehensible as these, the petitioners are among
a capriciously selected random handful upon whom the sentence of
death has in fact been imposed."
Stewart went on to write "I simply conclude that the Eighth
and Fourteenth Amendments cannot tolerate the infliction of a sentence
of death under legal systems that permit this unique penalty to
be so wantonly and so freakishly imposed." However, just four
years later the Supreme Court allowed states to rewrite their death
penalty statutes. Florida reinstated the death penalty within five
months, followed shortly by 34 other states.
By the end of this month, barring last minute appeals, the State
of Texas will have killed three more people, Daroyce Mosley, John
Amador, and Kenneth Foster. I've not looked at their specific cases,
and make no mistake I'm not suggesting that Texas is especially
savage, I'm merely asking whether killing these men and the others
that will follow, will really serve justice, and if not then shouldn't
the United States be examining the motives for the death penalty
in the first place?