“Death row is a nightmare to serial killers and ax murderers. For an innocent man, it’s a life of mental torture that the human spirit is not equipped to survive.”– John Grisham, The Confession
When I was at university, I remember that I wrote an essay or something about the death penalty in one of my exams.
I don’t recall exactly what I wrote, but I’m pretty certain that the gist of it was when it came to criminals, that the authorities should ‘string dem up and heng dem up alive’, to quote a song from Capleton.
I’m also pretty certain I said something rather daft like if one or two innocent people are executed, it’s better than a guilty person walking free. Oh, how stupid I was. I take no solace in the fact that I was maybe 20 years old either; that was stupid reasoning.
Needless to say, my views on the death penalty have changed. I totally understand why people still call for it, but I’m not sure that a) it works, or b) it’s the right thing to do. I give two reasons. For one, there can be an element of doubt about guilt. Sure, forensic science has come a long way, but not even that is 100 per cent certain, 100 per cent of the time. Every day we hear of people being released after it was found that they were wrongfully convicted. You can’t bring back a dead man.
But there has been evidence to support the view that the death penalty does not deter violent crime. In the USA, for instance, there have been stories in publications like The New York Times that showed that the homicide rate was no lower in states that still had the death penalty, compared to states that didn’t.
Let’s be clear, people close to me have been murdered. And there was a particular incident with a close relative in which — had I mustered the guts — I would have gone after the perpetrator. My point is that I know the feeling of wanting to exact my own brand of justice. It can keep you awake at night and put you in a dark place.
I have no doubt that the people of Llandewey in St Thomas were in that place when they, unfortunately, killed Levi Chambers, believing that he was the man who abducted two girls from the parish. That drive to ‘make things right’ can blind you, and all semblance of reason disappears. If only one person could have been the voice of reason, Chambers would probably still be alive, albeit perhaps with some cuts and bruises.
As it relates to confessed murderers, I’ve heard enough tales from real-life court cases to know that confessions can be coerced. The individual would have to give the most specific details about the crime to fully convince me of their guilt. Then and only then would I support hanging, the electric chair or lethal injection.
I pray that I am never convicted of a crime I did not commit. I would not be able to bear the weight.
Photo: The family of the late Levi Chambers placed a photo of him by a Bible on his bed. PHOTO BY SHANNA MONTEITH
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