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The Capacity to Deal Out Death

posted Oct 1, 2015, 1:44 PM by Farar Elliott
Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life.  Can you give it to them?
Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.   ---- Gandalf (The Fellowship of the Ring, JRR Tolkien)

I have been following the story of Kelly Gissendaner for the past several weeks. Gissendaner who had been the only woman on the state of Georgia's death row, was executed by lethal injection this morning.

Gissendaner was convicted of the murder of her husband, Douglas Gissendaner, and sentenced to death, even though she neither wielded the weapon nor attended the crime.  The  deed was done by her boyfriend, Gregory Owen, who managed a plea deal with the state: a life sentence for implicating Gissendaner. Upon her execution, Kelly Gissendaner was the first person in Georgia to be executed for a crime she didn't actually carry out, since the reestablishment of the death penalty in the United States.

As I have followed the case, I find myself, as I usually do, in a place of great ambivalence.  I do not think that Kelly Gissendaner was, by any means, innocent.  I am convinced she used whatever power of persuasion she had to convince her boyfriend to kill her husband.  I am fairly certain that she was a selfish, broken, terrible person.

That being said, her manipulation did not take away Gregory Owen's power of choice.  Douglas Gissendaner died at Owen's hand, yet the state chose to put Kelly Gissendaner to death.  And it is this irony that bothers me about our legal system: that decisions of life and death depend on how good an attorney you can afford, how good a political deal a prosecutor can make, or even how good you look on camera.  This is not justice.

I recognize that there are people who have no capacity to value other's lives.  And do not think that I could honestly claim that I was incapable of killing someone.  But the Lord is the giver of life and it seems we are too cavalier in justifying ourselves in taking it. Taking a person's life repairs nothing, heals nothing, or deters nothing.  And that is why I cannot support it.   Speaking of another person scheduled to be executed, my friend The Rt. Rev. Robert Wright of Atlanta summed it up this way, "His guilt is not at issue.  His human dignity is.  OUR human dignity is."