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It is Time to Put the Death Penalty to Death

By Deacon Keith Fournier
© Thrid Millennium, LLC

The news flashes are everywhere; the case is Roper v. Simmons, 03-633, decided by the United States Supreme Court, today, March 1, 2005 in a 5-4 decision. It finally ends the practice of putting all juvenile offenders to death for capital offenses. It follows upon another decision limiting the use of State sponsored lethal force by chemical injection, electrocution or asphyxiation against criminal offenders who are “mentally retarded” or mentally diminished. That case was Atkins v. Virginia [2002]. It held that that executing the mentally retarded was no longer permissible.

Both practices are now held to be unconstitutional under the eighth amendment to the United States Constitution as “cruel and unusual punishment.” Although several bases were given for both decisions, the reasoning of the Court revolved around the diminished mental capacity of the offender to determine right from wrong. Prior decisions had called into question younger teenagers; this decision closes the loop by adding all teenagers.

The decision in Roper forbids the execution of killers who were under 18 when they committed their crimes. The practice, still followed in 19 states, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, Texas and Virginia, is now officially ended in the United States of America.

Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer were joined by Justice Kennedy who, writing for the majority said: "Our society views juveniles ... as categorically less culpable than the average criminal,"

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Sandra Day O'Connor dissented. In a twenty four page dissenting opinion, Justice Scalia wrote: "The court says in so many words that what our people's laws say about the issue does not, in the last analysis, matter… In the end our own judgment will be brought to bear on the question of the acceptability of the death penalty… The court thus proclaims itself sole arbiter of our nation's moral standards,"

The facts of the case were egregious and shock the conscience. At the age of 17, Christopher Simmons kidnapped a neighbor in Missouri, hog-tied her and threw her off a bridge. Undoubtedly this was an evil act that should not go without punishment. It will not. He will spend his days in jail. The questions concerning the use of capital punishment are actually not about not punishing, rather, they are about taking another life as punishment.

Apparently some scientific evidence presented in the lower courts confirmed what anyone who has raised children through the teenage years already knew, those years are the formative years for conscience. According to medical experts, the “amygdale” -- the central part of the brain that sends out impulses in reaction to the environment and perceived threats -- is very active in teenagers. However, the prefrontal cortex -- the part that makes value judgments, is not fully developed. Oh I know, some will mock such “science”, others will call it “bleeding heart liberalism”, but even these “experts” who offered this scientific evidence in the lower courts did not say that teenagers don't know the difference between right and wrong but rather that they struggle with impulse control.

Christopher Simmons who committed this horrible crime is now 27. He was sentenced to death in Missouri for a murder he committed at the age of 17. The Supreme Court of that State overturned the sentence, calling the execution of juvenile’s cruel and unusual punishment. The State of Missouri appealed. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled.

Now, the battling between “left” and “right”, “liberal” and “conservative” begins.

Let me state very clearly, I oppose the death penalty—always have and always will. It is a part of my deep abiding commitment to holding a consistent ethic of life. However, I understand that some Christians do not share my conviction and I understand their positions.

All the years that I have fought on the front lines of the pro-life cause, I have been uncomfortable with being labeled a "conservative." I have never officially registered as a "Republican"—though the current leadership of the Democratic Party and their love affair with the autonomous self and the so-called “abortion right” forced me to leave their ranks. Some of my "conservative" friends don't think I am one of "them," either, because of my opposition to the death penalty, among other things.

What I am is pro-life, pro-family, pro-freedom and pro-poor.

Capital Punishment is an issue where the labels have lost what little value they might have ever had. In a rush to multiply ...

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