On Wednesday this week, Brandon Astor Jones died by lethal injection at Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson.
Mr Jones was 72. He had been alone in a cell smaller than my bathroom for more than 36 years. It’s too late now to join the campaign to have his sentence commuted, so my question is, what did his death achieve?
I’ve no doubt the answer from death-penalty advocates would be that justice has finally been served. It must be very gratifying to be so sure of what constitutes ‘justice’, and so convinced of your own righteousness that you feel justified in taking a life for a life. Or in this case, two lives for a life. Mr Jones’ co-defendant Van Solomon was executed in 1985. Whether it is significant that it was two black lives for one white life, I can’t venture to say, but it’s interesting to note that having failed to determine which man fired the fatal shot, the State chose to execute both.
I don’t have that conviction of my own righteousness. I am human and fallible, and knowing that, I don’t have it in me to assume power over the life and death of another human being. Furthermore, I believe that thou shalt not kill means thou shalt not kill anybody (except perhaps in self-defence), and Mr Jones is no less dead for the fact that his killing was state-sanctioned.
So I come back to my original question: what did his execution achieve?
Will it act as a deterrent for other potential perpetrators? No. Extensive studies have proved that this theory is completely invalid. And unless you subscribe to a Ha! Got you in the end! policy, the lapse of 36 years makes it even less valid in the case of Brandon Astor Jones.
Will it bring ‘closure’ to the family of the victim? Obviously I can’t answer that, but the assumption that the execution of the perpetrator is essential to closure is again demonstrably invalid – see the rest of the world.
Is the community safer following Mr Jones execution? No. He has not been part of the community for 36 years.
Is the world ‘better’ following his death? Mr Jones was not Hitler, Saddam Hussein or Jack the Ripper. Nor was he the same bad boy who was locked up 36 years ago. He had gained international respect for his thoughtful, articulate articles on prison life, racism and politics. He was, if you like, ‘rehabilitated’, and perhaps a timely reminder that…
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee. (John Donne)
But his execution did achieve one thing: it saved the state of Georgia the ongoing expense of his continued incarceration, and freed up a cell on death row for the next in the queue.
It does, however, leave me mystified. I am familiar with passage from St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, Chapter 12, Verse 19: Vengeance is mine; I will repay, said the Lord. But I can’t imagine how I missed the bit where He added, except in selected states of the US, where my Faithful Servants will do the job for me.