A question for the State of Georgia

On Wednesday this week, Brandon Astor Jones died by lethal injection at Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson.

thCAEZF5YQMr 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.

Alleluia.

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.

 

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10 Responses to A question for the State of Georgia

  1. I am NOT in favor of the death penalty, but my husband IS. My mother was pro death penalty, though she was, in ever other respect, an extreme social liberal. This issue doesn’t break down by party — or racial — lines. It never has. It’s very personal. When they vote on it in Massachusetts — it comes up every decade or so — the vote is never along party or racial or any lines. People vote their conscience. We have our reasons and they are highly individual. It actually costs more to execute someone than lock them up for life. The legal and court costs are huge. The system does not execute people to save money. I don’t think they should do it at all, but I understand that there are arguments to the contrary held by people whose opinions I respect.

  2. Forgot to check the comment box, sorry.

  3. I hear what you’re saying and I apologise if you feel I’ve overstepped the mark. What stirred me up was the realisation that Brandon Astor Jones was my age and had spent 36 years in solitary confinement.

  4. Relax... says:

    As St. John Paul said in the last catechism, if a criminal can be incarcerated securely away from others, we must go no further lest we tread on God’s own sacred ground with that person He created. The Church had to make one allowance short of decrying the death penalty entirely — not all of the world can yet securely incarcerate criminals. The Church is usually my last decider, since there are O.J. Simpsons (and their *lawyers*) around to confuse a number of issues for otherwise sane, rational people. Without that, the only bottom line is that two wrongs can never make a right. Why on earth would we do what a murderer did? I don’t know why we can’t see at least that!

    • I don’t agree with capital punishment (obviously!) but as Marilyn pointed out, that’s only my personal opinion. What got to me about Mr Jones’ case was the he had already spent 36 years – 36 years! – in solitary confinement in conditions that the rest of us (luckily for us) can’t begin to get our heads around. (There are a lot of writings on the subject.) So what did his execution achieve?

      • Relax... says:

        Only proof that we all are imperfect and have no business doling out fates.

      • I personally don’t think executions achieve anything. If they were timely, like you got the verdict and you take the guy out and put a bullet in his head behind the courthouse, at least there would be some satisfaction vis-a-vis immediate “justice.” But the process is endless. A lifetime. By the time an execution occurs, most of the players in the drama have long since moved on and there’s no point in it or satisfaction or justice. But, as we say, that’s our opinion.

      • Timely executions would certainly make more logical sense – but wouldn’t allow a lot of wiggle room for anyone falsely convicted. Mistakes happen. I gather a lot of the delay is because most people on death row can’t pay for their defence and the public system isn’t the most proactive – probably weighed down by the workload.

      • And incompetence. The best and brightest may work there, but it’s not like in the movies.

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