Thou Shalt Not Kill – A Convicted Murderer?
Aug. 27, 2001
the dawn of creation the law of God to man has been "Whoso sheddeth
man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed." Today, we refer to this
biblical principle in public law as capital punishment.
Interestingly, regardless of the fact that the death penalty´s origin
is found in the Bible, every society, religious or not, has adopted the
death penalty as a suitable way to deal with murder. There is a good
reason for this: The death penalty makes great sense.
Think about it. As harsh a sentence as death is, the penalty fits the crime:
1. Murder is a crime for which the victim cannot come back and say, "I refuse to press charges." The victim has no voice.
Murder is a crime for which no payment by the criminal will ever fully
satisfy the debt incurred. If one robs a store, the captured thief can
pay back the debt, and in fact, under biblical law (which is better
than today´s law) would be tasked to work for the man he robbed
until the debt was satisfied seven times the value of the good stolen.
With such a bounteous payback, the thief is then freed and, by his
honorable labor, restored to a position of trust.
But a murderer can never bring back life. Thus, no matter how hard he
labors, he can never regain society´s trust. His victim is dead and
will remain dead.
legitimate role of government involves the protection of life, liberty
and property. Just as the role of the government is to raise an armed
force and rain down deadly force upon a bloodthirsty invading army, so
also the government is duty bound to inflict death upon
the man who chooses to slaughter fellow citizens in his own backyard.
any, object to the use of deadly force against an invading army. Yet
those invading soldiers, ordered to fight and likely whipped up by
propaganda to go into battle, are far less deserving of death than the
assailant who has been proven guilty and convicted in a court of law,
by a jury of his peers, of shedding the innocent blood of his neighbor
– and this of his own free will. Yet we do, and must, condone war in
such situations. Governments must protect life. This is no less true
Murder revokes citizenship. Some defend the murderer with the claim
that he/she, like anyone else, has certain rights, including the right
to life. This is true, prior to conviction. In this country we assume a
person is innocent until proven guilty.
Therefore, the accused has
all the same rights in the legal system as anyone else: i.e., the right
to know the crime for which one is being charged, the right to a
speedy and public trial, the right to counsel, the right to face one´s
accusers, the right to trial before a jury of one´s peers, the right
forced self-incrimination, the right not to be tried twice for the same
crime, the right to be convicted for capital punishment only upon the
testimony of two witnesses, and the right to appeal.
after all this has taken place and the jury proclaims guilt and decrees
a sentence, and the convicted criminal has exhausted all appeals, his
rights as an American citizen must end. He freely chose to break the
law and take the life of a fellow citizen; he is not now free to avoid
the consequences of his heinous choice. If the jury assigns death, his
fate is sealed, his right to life terminated.
Death Penalty is not, as social activist lawyer Clarence Darrow once
claimed, "an act of revenge"; it is an act of justice.
Liberals and Libertarians have made hay of a few people, once upon a
time, driving by a penitentiary in Michigan City, Ind., shouting "Burn,
baby, burn!" as a man – who raped and strangled a mother and drowned each of her three children one by one – was electrocuted.
the "burn, baby, burn," so what? Let´s address a more important issue.
If the account is true, why do we suppose some people
react that way? Could it be they are bearing testimony to the slayer
and to future would-be slayers that murder hurts? Could it be they are
witnessing to the murderer and to those who take murder lightly that
murder is not just a crime against an individual, but against all those
who loved that individual, all those who depended upon that individual,
all those who were and may yet have been influenced by that
individual, and all those who fear that a similar act might someday befall upon them or their loved ones?
Certainly, no sane human being pastes on his face a perpetual smile
after a family member or fellow citizen has been brutally murdered, nor
the counsel of King Arthur to Sir Lancelot in the movie "First Knight":
"A man who doesn't fear anything is a man who loves
nothing." Or with slight adaptation: "A man who has never felt anger
has never known love." Or, as founder Thomas Paine reflected
on the proper reaction to the deaths, tortures and rapes being
inflicted by the British upon America´s sons and daughters, brothers
and wives, neighbors and countrymen: "He that feels not now is dead."
(Paine, Vol. II, 273-274)
a very good and strong emotion. When the object of that love is
threatened or destroyed, people who possess moral and emotional sense
ought to react with equally strong emotions, if not outrage. In fact,
no one can fully understand such emotions until they have been there
And so we wonder, could it be that some activist lawyers and pundits – who don´t believe in
Judeo-Christian morality anyway – are guilty of intentionally confusing
revenge with righteous indignation and true love? One can be
angry, one can insist that stiff penalties including death be
administered as remedies, without being filled with hatred and vengeful
Again from Thomas Paine, regarding America´s call to arms against England: "Say not that this is revenge, call it rather the
soft resentment of a suffering people, who, having no object in view
but the good of all, have staked their own all upon a seemingly
doubtful event." (Paine, Vol. 11, 272-273)
Even so, a spirit of revenge will exist at times in the hearts of some
victims. But what of it? This does not change the nature of the crime,
the proof of the murderer´s guilt, nor the necessity for proportional
justice. Murder is still murder, regardless of emotion.
justice of the death penalty is strengthened, not weakened, by the
advent of new technologies such as DNA testing, which have recently
been utilized to more firmly establish guilt or innocence. It does not
logically follow that the death penalty should be abolished because
such evidence "might" have reversed the fate of some previously put to
death. It´s too late for that. What´s past is past.
Racial profiling and rich/poor lawyer success rates are poor excuses to
eliminate the death penalty, and thus rob justice. That some
people inevitably "get off" because of the skill of a lawyer, because
of celebrity status, or because of political power does not negate the
validity of and necessity for laws and penalties. It should only
motivate us to find a way to make these "untouchables" accountable
the law. We can´t have anarchy.
imprisonment is a poor, immoral substitute for the death penalty. Such
a plan heaps additional punishment upon victims by insisting that they
pay for the living expenses, the education expenses, the recreation
expenses, the medical expenses of the man who
killed their kin. Such a plan is in fact socialism on behalf of butchers.
But even worse, life imprisonment unnecessarily puts at risk prison
guards, lesser criminals, survivors, jurists, judges, lawyers,
family members, little children ... everyone.
murderers have been known to kill in prison, order a hit on a civilian
while in prison, and to kill once they get out of prison. That´s why
the average murderer on death row has killed three people before
finally being put to death. Further, who can doubt that their
murderous attitudes influence other prisoners to adopt similar conduct
when they are set free. Permitting a murderer to live is a paltry
example of the so-called "progress of the law." Putting a man to death the first time around is better. It saves lives.
swift use of the death penalty – besides eliminating the possibility of
follow-on murders – deters (not eliminates) the commission of murder in
the first place. An ancient prophet asked: "Now, if there was no law
given – if a man murdered he should die – would he be
afraid he would die if he should murder?"
This question won´t go away. To assume and/or manipulate statistics in
order to say that the death penalty does not deter crime is at
best thoughtless, and at worst smacks of ulterior motives. The desire
for rewards and the avoidance of punishments affect every human
being. We spend our entire lives pursuing the one and avoiding the
other, to the degree that the law and our native common sense and
abilities aid us in that quest. Just look at the free market. Just look
at the influence of religion. Just think about how your driving speed is
affected by the presence of a police officer. To claim that the fear of
punishment, and such a final punishment, does not deter murder is
illogical. Our justice system´s failure to swiftly and consistently apply justice is the real deterrence to deterrence.
society that honors the sanctity of life by putting to death those who
are destroyers of life is not murderous but Godly. Allies of
eliminating the death penalty often flout the religious command "Thou
shalt not kill" back in the face of religious folks who advocate the
death penalty. This presumptuous and fanatical approach to a command of
God certainly misses the mark on the spirit of the command´s
intent and the command´s supporting doctrines.
Murder is defined doctrinally not merely as killing, but more precisely
as "shedding innocent blood." Putting to death a convicted
murderer who has been afforded a fair trial is not the shedding of
innocent blood, and thus is not murder. As already cited at the start of
this article, the Father of heaven and earth has also commanded: "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed."
In this regard, we read also: "For a commandment I give, that every
man´s brother shall preserve the life of man, for in mine own
image have I made man." And then again: "Ye shall defend your families
even unto bloodshed." Likewise, "[defend your] lands, [your]
country, [your] rights, and [your] religion" even unto death.
Therefore, when "Thou shalt not kill" is placed right smack in the middle of
the big picture – as all religious principles should be – we realize
the commandment incorporates the inalienable right to self-defense and
the moral duty to protect the life of those within our jurisdiction as parents, neighbors, citizens, and/or officers of the law.
Again, Thomas Paine persuades: "My own line of reasoning is to myself
as straight and clear as a ray of light. Not all the treasures of the
world, so far as I believe, could have induced me to support an
offensive war, for I think it murder; but if a thief breaks into my
burns and destroys my property, and kills or threatens to kill me, or
those that are in it, and to "bind me in all cases whatsoever" to his
absolute will, am I to suffer it? What signifies it to me, whether he
who does it is a king or a common man; my countryman or not my
countryman; whether it be done by an individual villain, or an army of them? If we reason to the root of things we shall find no
difference; neither can any just cause be assigned why we should punish
in the one case and pardon in the other." (Paine, Vol. II, 274)
that common moral sense signified was death to the villain or to the villains.
Paine reminds those who would shrink at such a high moral duty: "[T]he
blood of his children will curse his cowardice." (Paine, Vol. II, 274)
Finally, I address a question already alluded to but taken to an even
greater extreme by a June 2000 National Review feature article,
"The Problem With the Chair: A Conservative Case Against Capital Punishment." The question was asked: "If a democratic society
executes criminals with the foreknowledge that some percentage of them
are innocent, are all members of that society implicitly guilty of
off-the-mark question, nevertheless, deserves a frank answer. God is
more just and merciful than that. It seems best to trust, as did
our forefathers, that if we do the absolute best we can to uphold His
laws, He will judge us by the intent of our hearts in those areas where
we may have remotely failed. It is He who established the law for the
death penalty. His law is good. To abolish His just and compassionate
law in defense of criminals, fairly convicted, misses the mark with
religion by striking a legal blow at the laws and justice of God, whose
laws are at the root of the American judicial system.
Weyde, William, ed. "The Life and Works of Thomas Paine, Volume II."
New Rochelle, N.Y.: Thomas Paine Historical Association,
1925, pp. 272-274.