February 27, 1998

Born Again

We withdraw our wrath from the man who admits that he is justly punished.

Aristotle, c.322 B.C.

Karla Faye Tucker is dead. On February 3,1998, in a Huntsville, Texas prison near Waco, she was injected with an overdose of an anaesthetic drug, which ended her life. Or did it?

Ms. Tucker killed two people with a pickaxe during a 1984 burglary and was found guilty and sentenced to death. There is no doubt of her guilt, which she has admitted. Texas governor George W. Bush could have commuted the sentence if the parole board recommended it, but they didn't. So she was executed.

During her 14 years of incarceration she has been "born again" and was, at the time of her death, a devout Christian. I have no reason to doubt her sincerity. A number of other people did not doubt her sincerity, including Jerry Falwell. During her imprisonment, she married a minister.

To an Atheist, his life is all that he has. When he loses it, that's it, the absolute end, finished! He will go to the same place that a dead cockroach goes, which is nowhere. But a Christian goes to heaven, to Jesus. If you execute an Atheist, do you deprive him of something more precious that you do if you execute a believing Christian?

One would expect the attitude of an Atheist and a Christian to be different about dying. Since the Christian isn't really dying, one would expect less fear of death and much more serenity. The same should be true of adherents of any religion that does not believe that, as Iago sings in Verdi's Otello, "Death is nothing." My very limited personal experience with people dying is that there is little difference. The vast majority of people do not want to die, but most accept the end when it comes. They have no choice.

As I watched that pretty woman on television, I thought that it was a shame that she would die in the bloom of her womanhood. How much pleasure would she be capable of taking and giving? What's more, in prison, she could not commit a similar crime. The same would be true of a young man. What difference does a person's sex make where justice is concerned? It should be equally blind for both if it is to be called justice. In Karla Faye's case, it was blind.

I think that the execution should have been televised, including the wrapping her body in a plastic sheet and putting her in the refrigerator. The camera should have been on her face for most of the time. Such a pretty face it is; or was. On second thought, maybe that isn't a very good idea. Some young people, believing that it was a good and noble way to die, might try to imitate Karla Faye, just as they did Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

But the fact that she is a Christian is irrelevant, just as the race or religion of anyone should be in the eyes of the law. But what should be is not always what is.

In order to kill, whether it be killing a person or an animal, the person doing the killing has to depersonalize the victim. Once you see the victim as a human being like yourself, it is difficult to do the job. Every combat soldier, hunter, butcher, doctor, or executioner knows this. Perhaps if more people saw what was involved, our county might go the same route as most countries in the industrialized world, and abolish the death penalty once and for all. There are many reasons to do this: it is expensive, wasteful, and sometimes the wrong person is executed. Yet, the only reason that many people might possibly buy is an emotional one. And watching a beautiful, alive, vibrant young woman getting snuffed might just about do it for many of those who now ardently support capital punishment. A friend of mine gave up deer hunting when he looked a wounded deer in the eyes as he put the final bullet into its head.

After having 14 years in prison with nothing to do except think about where you have been and where you are going, a person can't help but change if he has any mind at all.

Lastly, and perhaps most important, not a single murder victim has ever been brought back to life by executing his murderer.

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