I was slowly catching up on reading my old magazines, something much more easily done now that many of them are available online, and I can read them on my iPad, when I stumbled across an article in one of my religious magazines about the fight to prevent the execution of Kelly Gissendaner for her role in the murder of her husband in 1997.
OK, let me say it now and get it out of the way…I’m no fan of the death penalty, but not for the “touchy feely” reasons you might think. I’m against it for two reasons. First of all, mistakes get made. A photo of a man who was a dead ringer for me, right down to his eyeglass frames and the shirt he was wearing, being arrested for dealing drugs in Washington DC in a late 80s issue of Newsweek made it apparent how easily a case of mistaken identity could happen. But there’s also the case of flawed evidence, and mistaken assumptions. Sometimes the state of the art of science, and what we think we know at the time, can lead us to find the wrong person guilty. And if we execute that person, we’ve made a mistake that can’t be corrected or made up for.
Second, I just can’t imagine anyone wanting the job of being the executioner. Now, from what I’ve heard, I know that they try to set it up so that more than one person is involved in the execution, and there’s some doubt as to who actually did the deed, but still…I can’t imagine having to live with that…especially if it’s discovered later that “mistakes were made.”
Oh wait…there’s a third reason. The unfairness and unevenness with which the death penalty is administered. Some populations are sentenced to it statistically more than others. But that’s an issue for another time.
Frankly, if we are to have a death penalty, I’d much prefer for it to be a “smoking gun” death penalty. By that I mean, we have to have clear video of you committing the murder, or there has to have been a crowd of people nearby who saw you, chased you down, and caught you. There can’t be any of this “reasonable doubt” stuff. It has to be absolutely certain that you did it. That’s a death penalty I could live with. Otherwise, you get life in prison.
But enough about that. Let me return to Kelly Gissendaner.
The article talked about the many appeals to spare her life, especially after she converted to Christianity, turned her life around, and completed a Theology degree through a program offered by Emory University. It talked about how one of the many postponements of her execution clearly showed “the hand of God” at work.
And this is where they lost me.
I’m not a hard-hearted person. I’m not an “eye for an eye” person…at least not in the incorrect way that most people interpret it. But I had to ask, “Where was the ‘hand of God’ when Douglas Gissendaner was being murdered?” Why did God suddenly decide to “show his hand” in procedural delays in order to further the appeals process for Kelly, and spare her life?
I also had to ask, and have asked before in similar cases, “If you’ve become a Christian and have turned your life around, why are you asking for special treatment?” I especially ask this of someone who has completed a Theology degree, and should understand this better than the average person in the pew. If Jesus went, uncomplaining to his death when he was totally guiltless, why are you filing appeal after appeal (or allowing your lawyers to do so) to prevent you from dying for something you’ve admitted to being guilty of?
It just doesn’t work for me. And it especially doesn’t work for me after finding out that she studied Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
So what finally happened? Was her sentence commuted? Was she granted clemency? Did an appeal from Pope Francis save her life?
At the time that the article was written, it was unclear how the story would end, and I wouldn’t find out until the next issue…a true cliffhanger.
But no matter how it ended, I still have problems with the idea of seeing “the hand of God” in the process.