A recent triple murder in Clark, Wyoming gives us pause to reflect upon the practice of capital punishment. Many states in our country still provide capital punishment as a viable option in the justice system; Wyoming is one of those states. Only 18 states have currently demonstrated the enlightened wisdom to abolish capital punishment, and I wish in this blog post to argue strongly that Wyoming and other states soon follow their lead.
In the above mentioned case, two teenagers recently killed three members of a family during an attempt to steal a vehicle. The communities of Clark and Cody Wyoming are now dealing with the fallout of this outrageous act of violence; yet another recent event that tragically takes the life of innocent members of our society and human family. I wish to recognize the enormity of this crime and assure the Community of Clark as well as the Freitas and Volgyesi families of our prayers.
Very often in the early days following such events, emotions make it easy for people to call for the death penalty for those who commit such senseless and violent murders. Such is the case today. However, I wish to draw attention to our Church’s teaching that looks upon capital punishment as an archaic practice that shows no respect for human dignity. Capital punishment is cruel and unnecessary.
A quick review of recent cases of those who were put to death by states reveals the incredible amount of time it takes for states to carry out a death sentence. Most often, a death penalty generates a long series of court appeals, thus making the execution of the death sentence a lengthy and costly process. Shorter times to carry out this means of justice are generally associated with the sentenced party waiving all rights to the appeals process. (One of the best online resources to learn about the death penalty can be found here.)
The funds used by the state in this appeals process are considerable, and could and should be used for more constructive services to build up the society. The appeals process that takes years also inadvertently draws out the emotional strain on the families of the victims, the family of the one sentenced to death, let alone the individual awaiting execution. All of this is unnecessary and inhumane.
For me, one of the great reasons for a life sentence in lieu of the death penalty is that a life sentence allows for the guilty party to make atonement for his sins. In short, a life sentence allows for the process of conversion and redemption. A life sentence allows society to demonstrate a respect for human dignity, even to those who formerly demonstrated no such respect. A life spent in prison can also allow an individual to grow in the same understanding and respect for human life.
Perhaps there is no more fitting conclusion to this instruction than the Catechism itself:
#2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.
If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person.
Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the case in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically non-existent.” (Pope John Paul II, The Gospel of Life, #56)