The Taser's Edge

When Getting Nauseous is a Good Thing

‘Video of firing squad execution chamber after Ronnie Lee Gardner put to death’:

Frustratingly, the NY Times will not let me grab this picture (the initial turner of my stomach), an artist’s rendering of the room where Ronnie Lee Gardner was blindfolded, strapped to a chair, had a target placed on his chest, and was shot through the heart by five men and four bullets representing the people of Utah.

Christian ethicists, professional and amateur, have spilled a lot of ink on whether people can be Jesus’ disciples and support the death penalty.  Without fail, the major text is John 8:3-13, and the major line is “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone.”

I have always been hesitant to read this as a complete prohibition of capital punishment, because (1) the text is not found in the most authoritative manuscripts of John we have,  and (2) plenty of commentators would say that Jesus is talking about something very specific and contextual to this particular encounter and not about abolishing a well-established piece of Jewish law.

In practical terms, I have also been given pause by the question of having no consequences for the crimes in prison of a prisoner with a life sentence in a state which has no death penalty.  Murder a prison guard or a fellow inmate in that state, and there is no further punishment to be made.  Except I just read this: “Prisoners on death row are 250% more likely to murder, in prison, than are prisoners in the general population. Lester, D., ‘Suicide and Homicide on Death Row’, American Journal of Psychiatry, 143, 559, 1986.” (quoted in this online source)

But let’s return to “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone” and read it as narrowly as we please.  The US government, the state of Utah, and the people of Utah are far from without sin.  And between 12am and 12:20am Mountain Time this morning, we all added yet more blood to our tally.

(Update from BBC News: “Utah firing squad death announced on Twitter.”
Best article I’ve found on the execution, also from BBC News: “How and Why Gardner Was Shot“)

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