| THE ISSUE OF CAPITAL PUNISHMENT
By: Jerry S. Maneker
I’m against capital punishment in all circumstances!
Human life is sacred; we are not to play God, Who is the only One who can give life and the only One Who should take
life. We are to leave the business of vengeance to God; we are not to usurp His role in the taking of human life.
There must be a consistent ethic of reverence for all human life, no matter how despicable the acts of a person. A so-
called “Christian nation” is not to resort to barbarism, furthering the blood lust of its members.
Our country is becoming increasingly sociopathic, caring little for “the least among us.” Capital punishment has been a
tool used by politicians, including judges and prosecutors, foisted upon a gullible public, for purposes of getting elected
to office, conveying the belief that they are “tough on crime.” This tool feeds our basest nature!
And, the public, for the most part, is stupid enough to believe the simplistic slogans of representatives of the state that
they will be safer if capital punishment is enacted. There has been an exponential increase in our blood lust, to the
degree that if executions were televised, it might well be the most popular program on TV.
In 1953 there were 131 people sentenced to death; in 1997 there were 3,335 people sentenced to death! We have
become so callused as a people that Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia stated, “Mere factual innocence is no reason
not to carry out a death sentence properly reached.” This statement is truly remarkable, in that it says, in effect, that as
long as proper judicial procedure was followed, the guilt or innocence of the condemned is irrelevant.
What is especially macabre in the sentiments of most of the American public who favor capital punishment is that in
Florida, 73% of its death penalty cases have been overturned since 1973. We can only conjecture how many innocent
people have been executed in our country. Three hundred and fifty people convicted of capital crimes in America
between 1900 and 1985 were innocent of the crimes charged; 23 were actually executed according to Amnesty
International. Forty-eight condemned men have been freed from death row since 1972. A US Congressional report
concluded, “Judging by past experience, a substantial number of death row inmates are indeed innocent, and there is a
high risk that some of them will be executed.”
Black people represent 35% of the total people executed since 1976; they make up about 12% of the population.
Regarding the race of death row inmates, 1,574 are Black; 1,698 are white; 40.70% are Black; 48.02% are white. When
there is a Black defendant with a white victim there are far more death sentences and executions than when there is a
white defendant with a Black victim. No reasonable person can deny the racist nature of capital crime adjudication and
The danger that innocent people will be executed because of errors is getting worse! Twenty-one condemned inmates
have been released since 1993; frequently, new scientific techniques and journalistic investigations are not available to
the typical death row inmate who has little, if any, financial resources.
Just one story to hammer this point home is that of Rolando Cruz who was released after 10 years on Illinois’ death row,
despite the fact that another man had confessed to the crime shortly after his conviction. As Justice William J. Brennan
said in 1994, “Perhaps the bleakest fact of all is that the death penalty is imposed not only in a freakish and
discriminatory manner, but also in some cases upon defendants who are actually innocent.”
Some courts have now taken the position that it is permissible for executions to go forward even despite the fact that
there is considerable doubt about the defendant’s guilt; recent research indicates that there may be a greater chance of
mistaken convictions in death cases than in non-death cases. Moreover, minorities and the poor are several times more
likely to be given the death penalty than are the wealthy. (Limitations of space don’t permit me to go into the O.J.
Sam Sheppard was convicted of murdering his wife in 1954 in Ohio. Although the prosecution had sought the death
penalty, he was given a life sentence. Recent DNA evidence shows that Dr. Sheppard was not guilty! Dr. Sheppard
spent many years in prison, and died a broken man after being released!
Frequently, key witnesses lie or are mistaken, prosecutors sometimes withhold exculpatory evidence, police sometimes
lie on the stand, and judges and prosecutors want to be perceived as being “tough on crime.” Ironically, in Canada,
when they did away with the death penalty, the murder rate initially remained the same, and eventually decreased!
As Pope John Paul ll said, there is “The culture of death and a society dominated by the powerful.” To the degree we
support the death penalty, we are increasingly becoming not only barbaric, destroying our individual and collective
souls, but are embracing “the culture of death” that is antithetical to the Christian life.