I am writing this to share with you my personal beliefs when it comes to the death penalty, and I pray that God uses me as a voice of reason in a world full of chaos.
Twenty years ago, when I was arrested and charged with 3 counts of Capital Murder, it was simply some typing on a page and words hashed out by others. I had been raised to believe that the death penalty was a good thing, a Christian response to evil in the world; it being used was a form of retribution from God. I didn’t know enough about God to know if it was His will or not that we kill others for doing wrong, but as a child it made me fear Him and wonder what reason God sent His son to die.
In church I had heard the preacher say that God sent His only son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for us all so that all might be saved. Yet, when the preacher talked of the Old Testament God, He was a God filled with rage to the point of death sentences for all those that disobeyed His law. He had created the perfect world, created all the animals, and then from the dirt made man. Man was miserable alone, seeing all the animals with mates, and God wanted man to be complete so out of man He made woman. Together they represented the image of God, two parts of the same flesh and containing all the characteristics of their creator. Yet, God’s perfect creation was emotional by nature, easily influenced by the things about them, and, as beings, were animated by the breath of God – free willed.
God didn’t want puppets that simply did His will, no, He wanted all creation to choose to see Him as creator and all powerful. He wanted to be honored, followed, respected and, above all else, loved unconditionally. In this perfect world, in the Garden where He walked with man/woman, other beings had access. God had created, in Heaven and long before earth, celestial beings called angels, meant to worship and minister to Him. Created with power and glory, they were beings of immense power, messengers to do as He willed. They were also given free will, possibly God’s first creations whose individual identities were based on skills they possessed or positions they held.
One of those angels was named Lucifer, the shining star, standing by the throne of God, and seen as the most perfect. Yet, he willed to be god, to overcome Him and, in pride, sinned against the Most High. He was a being of such power and influence that he deceived a third of the angels to follow him, causing them to rebel against their creator, despite His being such.
God, creator of all, did not destroy Lucifer and those angels that followed him. No, God created them in love, sharing that Heavenly abode with Him, and it was the choice of will that He gave them that had been used to misguide them.
Lucifier was a being of power we can’t imagine or grasp, who had seen and witnessed all, singing and praising God as His thoughts manifested everything. There in the midst of that power, witnessing an all knowing being do those things, Lucifer believed he should be the ONE. He was able to convince a host of angels that he was the greatest, and he could offer them what their creator could or would not.
As a child, hearing the story for the first time, I knew that God would reduce Lucifer to dust, and watch as those particles blew out into the universe like the dust from a mighty volcano, or leaves caught in the wind as a storm blew up. God didn’t destroy them, didn’t condemn them to death, but He cast them out of His presence and sent them to earth. How do we know? The Bible tells us it is what He did, a just God that knew His creation, and that in creating identities in each of those beings that they could rebel.
Will means a choice, and we all decide what we do based on the thoughts we entertain. Lucifer was created, his purpose was not complete, and what example would a loving God give to the rest of the angels had He destroyed the others? He might have come across as wrong, killing simply because He had the power to and, in killing those that rebelled, might the rest resent Him?
God, unlike His creations, knew the whole story, from beginning to end, and so when He acted, it was with the wisdom that such knowledge offered. He spared Lucifer and his angels, sent them to earth, and then created man and woman. They also had free will, told by God that they were to rule over all the earth and everything in it. It was a rule that included the spiritual beings that existed there, and they needed only do as God told them to in order to live forever; eternal life, no sickness or death, walking with God without sense of anything wrong, because God would guide them first hand if they only did as He told them. Not because he didn’t want them to be independent, but He knew what was out there, pacing and waiting, for any chance to attack, again.
God was a merciful God, wanting his creation to flourish, and told them they could do anything except eat of one tree. They must leave that one tree alone, because it was a source of knowledge that would kill them if they ate of it. The knowledge of good and evil, it was called, but as with all beings with will, it is what’s unknown and denied that temps us so desperately.
Walking with God every day, receiving from Him all they needed, given the task of naming and ruling over all, and all they had to do was obey. The law of God, laid out clearly; isolated, they only needed to submit to His wisdom to be safe. His power animated them, they possessed knowledge only of what was good, just, pure, and true. They needed only follow God’s commands, meditate on His words, and that instruction would guide them all the days of their lives.
There was only one temptation in all the Garden yet it was allowed to be there because without a choice what good is the will? It was just a tree, after all, and, with all the others, what did it matter that this one was off limits? The forbidden; it whispered to them, calling so seductively, as only the unknown can.
Why even place the tree there knowing the danger it posed? God never temps or tests, no, He gave them instruction, prepared for those things which whisper so seductively. He wanted them prepared when Lucifer showed up, offering up another opinion, seeking to influence these as he had those that followed him before.
Closer they wandered towards the tree, drawn in to see what made it different, considering the appearance of it and, lastly, the fruit upon it. So close, Eve wandered, straying from the well beaten path where she stepped from the protection of God. There, in the presence of the forbidden, a presence became known – Lucifer.
Disguised as a shrewd serpent, he put into words the very thoughts that had drawn Eve near, cultivated the seeds that curiosity had sown. He simply asked the question, “Did God really say you must not eat from ANY of the trees in the garden?” It was a question to lead her to admit her choice; knowing what not to do, yet doing it anyway. “Of course, we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but we are not allowed to eat from the tree in the middle of the garden. God said that we must not eat of it or even touch it, or we will die.”
Already the thoughts had embellished the story, from not eating to not touching, and where was Adam? As part of him, his wife needed his wisdom, and it is clear that he had given it to her, yet here she was drawn near. It says that Adam was with her, maybe hanging back in the shadows, knowing what was right yet his own curiosity driving him to support her adventurous nature.
God had made man from dirt, woman from man, and woman gave life to the world. Woman was created to offer what was missing in man and, as such, he clearly followed her instead of leading, protecting. He used her to do what he was curious of, plausible deniability, and seeking to limit his culpability.
“You won’t die!” says the serpent, knowing that even his prideful acts hadn’t taken his life, and resenting man and woman their role and position in creation. “God knows that when you eat, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.” They both were already like God, filled with His spirit, but this snake voiced the very thoughts they had wondered when discussing why they couldn’t eat of it.
Man on his own isn’t as tempted when he has others to influence or pressure him, and it seems to me that being there, together, they had together made the decision. Adam knew it was wrong and wouldn’t do it himself, but he had no doubt encouraged his woman to try it, if she thought it might be ok. I wonder if Lucifer, the serpent in the trees, had been listening to them talk, sharing their ideas, and hatching his plan.
Eve decided that she believed the snake, saw that the tree was pleasant to the eye, its fruit was beautiful, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. She took and ate of it, and then gave some to her husband, who ate as well. Together they chose to rebel, facing death, doing what they shouldn’t have, because they listened to the wrong voice. Adam had listened to God, yet chose not to hear what He said. Eve listened to Adam who altered the word of law as he saw it.
The snake misguided Eve further, tempting her when she showed an interest, selling her on the wrong choice as the right one. Adam, seeing that Eve didn’t die, then took of the fruit not wanting to miss out on the power to be like God. It was a choice that caused the death of their spiritual connection with God, it changed the makeup of their relationship, and the sin of rebellion drove them from the Garden.
God didn’t destroy Lucifer, nor man and woman, because He was a God of mercy and His plan for creation included them all. They might seek to go their own way, denying that He could lead them, but He had a plan that would be fulfilled. Later, Cain would kill Able, his brother, when his offering wasn’t accepted by God, then God banished Cain from the land while putting a protection against retaliation against him. Why does this matter, you might be asking, and why the long accounting from the Bible?
I believe that God wrote the Bible through man, to provide us all with the wisdom to make spiritual decisions about people – people that are created with a will and, if even those in the beginning sinned, we all need God’s mercy. He showed mercy to Lucifer, the father of all sin as the grand deceiver, and He spared those that kept rebelling and sinning out of love.
This country was founded on Christian principles, a moral code, and its structure as a whole represents the same as laid out in the Bible. There is a system there, meant to be guided by God through spiritual influence, and certain people singled out as leader to judge those that break the law. Yet, even then, thousands of years ago, people would promote and empower those that sought to do what they willed not what God wanted.
God wanted us to act in love and mercy, teaching others how to live, and making exceptions where needed to fairly administer the law. I have shared the Bible for those that may not know it, and because I know God so loved the world that He sent his only son, to die for me, you, everyone. He wished that all be saved, not one lost, because every life is precious.
When I was arrested, struggling with a life of abuse and the many secrets that I held inside, I cried and begged God to save me. Not the physical death that the prosecution sought and threatened me with, but the eternal death that there was no freedom from once passing into. It was a struggle, not taking my own life; faced with the horrible abuses that had tormented me since childhood and then the deaths of those I had only sought to protect me. It was God that preserved my life, I believe, and 20 years later I can tell you that I am so very thankful that He did. It allowed me the time to grow and learn, heal and help others, and become what I believe God intended me to be – a man that knows he needs God to make it in this world and, only with love and understanding, will we ever find ourselves acting according to God’s will.
I don’t know all the details of those on death row, but I am a product of the system that suppressed so many things that even my “life without” (the other life sentence) is unjust. The punishment must fit the crime; the system is meant to weigh each factor and, in the end, use every means at their disposal to achieve a just end. For the victims, the criminal, society, and our spiritual well-being, we must try.
I have also been able to live around and with several people that have faced the death penalty, who were on death row, and those like me that were pressured into pleading guilty to a capital crime. In most of those cases, the criminal had a public defender, limited resources at his disposal, in a system aligned together assuring maximum convictions. Convictions are evidence that we are winning, putting away the criminals that make neighborhoods unsafe. Sadly, it’s what they use to sell themselves for re-election.
I do not believe in a system that is based on wins and losses, but advocate a system that weighs the just and unjust. When you have crimes that are committed, where the elements that lead to the events are suppressed and the prosecutors use the media to sway public opinion, then what is just about a conviction that never seeks to know the truth.
What truth you ask – the truth of every crime, as an act against the law, and the elements that lead a person to commit them. Why do we have a system that applies to the majority, and those that don’t fit are made to conform? How many innocent men and women have died on death row, convicted by a system that valued statistics instead of justice? How many have been cleared of acts that society, their families, and the victims were lead to believe were monsters deserving of their fate? Those freed have lived in the shadow of death and, instead of resolving injustice, more has been created.
Sadly, we have all been touched by pain, loss, and death in this life, and I am deeply sorry to every victim that has ever tasted those bitter pills. I implore you, however, to think of what we are doing when we condemn those to die for crimes, claiming killing them is somehow more civilized. In a system where victory comes at the expense of even one single innocent, then there is no victory at all.
Year after year, we see that many of the means for gathering evidence to convict is cast out, because those that use it to get convictions overestimate its value. Expert witnesses are paid mouth pieces, taking the stand to add professional ideas that few jurors understand, and that change to suit the side they represent.
A system without limits is a system without accountability and, in such, no one person is safe. Those that I have known that are no longer on death row are men thankful to be alive, men revived from drowning, and almost all of them committed to some spiritual path. There in those cells, waiting the day when they would be called, men find all that once meant something stripped away. Some of them want to die, coming to terms with the acts that put them there, and the time that revealed how pointless and senseless the acts were. Some were addicts, driven by their need, the greatest relationship in their life a chemical that drove them to act in ways only an addiction can.
If you have ever had your family touched by addiction, then you know that they no longer are those that you knew and their whole life becomes devoted to the fix. I have known men that were so lost in addiction, filled with shame and anger and regret, that on some level anything can be justified. They are sick men, lost in the haze of whatever drug they use to numb their pain and, in the process, others suffer and always will.
It is not my intention to justify any wrong, violence is never the right response, but I do want people to consider what makes them do what they do. It is through understanding; what leads people to act as they do, that we find solutions to the many and varied sickness and abnormal lines of thinking that manifest into crimes.
I have met addicts who killed for money, seeking a fix, because they had driven away all family and friends while lost in their addictive state. Some men were abused horribly, grew into predators, and then attacked others based on distorted views about the world and their purpose in it. A special few were so lost, demented in their views, that I thought that they surely needed to be where they were to protect my family, friends, the world. I have rarely met anyone that I saw as evil, someone that deserved to die, because on this side of things it’s harder to render that judgment.
Some on death row live life to share their faith, seeking to save others, preachers in their own right, devoted to something that delivered them when nothing else could. It is my belief that if a man is so bad, unable to be redeemed or helped, then he truly is the very definition of insane. But, I wish to share the story of a serial killer that I met while at the max, someone I live with, and relate a story to you that he told me.
We met in the PAL program, I cared enough to listen, and I got to see God use a man that few loved. He was a man that had been around the dead all his life seen their bodies from a young age as his father responded to the many emergencies that took the lives of others. He was a successful business man, had family and friends, who had an interest in the Native American history. He ended up building a sweat lodge, laid out like those used by Indians, and he recreated his in a way that others admired from all around.
What others didn’t know is that he was addicted to meth, using it to fuel his long hours working, and in that place of addiction found things he didn’t expect. At first, getting high, sweating and taking herbs to see things, he began to have visions. He said that at first the spirits were in the form of animals, the spirits Indians had worshiped and sought, and it moved him deeply to have connected with the great beyond. But, he entered into different relationships with women of different faiths, from pagans to Christians and all in between, and sought out the spirits that were centered in their faiths.
He told me that in one such search, high and suffering in the loss of a woman he had loved, that two angelic beings in all black, without faces, spoke to him from their positions beside his fire pit. They had no faces, yet he could hear them inside his head, and they told him that they would not give him peace until he offered them sacrifice. They told him what he needed to do, and he said they would torment him until he did it.
Over and over, he sought out women, taking them to torture and kill, and only then were those spirits satisfied. He told me that every time a relationship ended, when he hurt and felt loss, the spirits would return and offer peace if he would only kill for them. He admitted to me that he had developed a taste for dead flesh, and he had also enjoyed having sex with the bodies of those he killed.
There was a dark glow about him when he recounted those things, often commented that he could see demons in church watching us, and it always sent chills up my spine. Sometimes he would want to share, a soul weighed down with shame and regret, and others threatening that if I said a word he would know, THEY would tell him. I didn’t know how much of it was real, if he had made it up to justify to others what he had done in mental illness, but I saw him cry when his mom passed.
At a funeral that his father had to set up for, his dad was approached by a woman that was the daughter of one of the women that he had killed. She had asked his dad for a ride, but once in the vehicle she road in silence for a long time. She told him that he might not remember her, but her mother had been killed by his son. His dad began to apologize to her, feeling her loss as a father that had also lost a son, but before he could finish she interrupted him. She had been one of the many that had yearned to see him die for what he had done, a daughter that missed her mom daily, but recently something happened that completely altered her perspective on capital crimes.
You see, she had a daughter of her own, who had run off with an older boy, and in that time together her daughter had become an addict. She had driven the car as her boy friend had robbed a store, shooting the clerk, and had been arrested on capital murder charges. Her daughter was in prison in another state, given a life without sentence, because she drove the vehicle during the commission of the crime. It was that experience, she said, that drove her to want mercy for her daughter and in the searching for it began to forgive his son. She wanted to tell him so that he could tell his son that she had forgiven him.
I sat there listening, watching what I had silently thought of as a monster, as his lip quivered and eyes welled up in tears. He looked down as he said it, his shame and guilt a weight that crushed his spirit, but then looking up said, “She forgave me, me of all people, and it was then that I knew that God really existed.” Only God could make someone do what she did, and it was then that he began seeking God with all his heart. He took classes, shared his faith, and daily fought against the negative influences that sought to derail him.
Tell yourself that you are a monster long enough and you become one and, once you believe that, then anything you do is evidence of that truth. I do not share that story to provide reasoning for the death penalty, but as a reason for mercy and as evidence of God’s grace. I have no idea how many women he killed, and my prayer is that at some point he confesses to them all so that they may find resolution.
It used to keep me up at night, thinking about what he had done and why he had done it, but I pray for him every day knowing he needs help. It reminds me of the man possessed with spirits living among the dead, who cut himself with rocks, and that attacked everyone that came near. Jesus approached the man, addressed the spirits within him, and healed him of his sickness. Jesus saved the lost, broken, and possessed, knowing spiritually they were deceived.
I have come to learn that most of those that commit crimes are not mentally or emotionally whole, and if those that interviewed them learned the truth they would be hard pressed to get the death penalty for any of them. What has caused the problems with our judicial system is that each time some horrible crime happens, then there is a push for new laws that ensure such things never happen again. Yet, crime continues on, unabated, driven by the many issues that create the circumstances that lead to crimes.
How often do people become addicted, live for that addiction until it is all they have left, and then commit crimes to maintain the only thing they have left? It is easy to discount the power of something that you have never experienced or understand the control an abuser has after using a victim for years.
Cruel and unusual punishment is rooted in the 8th Amendment and has been the driving force in changing the laws for what is legal for juveniles. Why? Science has proven that their brains are not fully developed until the mid 20’s, and the parts not fully developed are those that directly affect the decision making. Why does that matter? A prosecutor must be able to establish the mental state of a criminal because their blameability is what defines what they can be charged with. Mens rea is a Latin term that has to do with a person’s culpability, based on specific requirements, to justify certain crimes and sentences. In the case of juveniles, mental retarded, and the insane, it is beyond cruel to execute those that can’t comprehend what they have done.
We need individualized sentencing procedures for all those that have limited culpability so that each is insured a fair consideration given the mitigating circumstances. We need laws that are logical and address the need for compassionate law enforcement, not the subjective reactions that simply create a larger problem while failing to address the underlining issues.
I don’t believe in the death penalty, most of the nations in the world don’t, and I don’t believe that life in prison is justified as often as it is given. Many people wanted tougher sentencing for cocaine until they got in trouble for it. Same thing for meth, until a family member or friend was caught doing or dealing.
We are dealing with violent crimes, I agree, but every action we take is in response to our mental states. If death could bring life, as Christ’s did for us all, then the punishment would erase the crime. That doesn’t happen, never will, killing is killing. I plead mercy, pray for grace, because I can’t cast any stones.