With Scott Peterson's trial and sentencing the issue of the death penalty has been thrust to the forefront of our society once again. Never mind the fact that Peterson will likely never be executed due to the system and the number of death row inmates in California that are in waiting.
Is the death penalty an outdated form of punishment that should be abandoned today?
No. In fact, if we pride ourselves on becoming a more civil society, the death penalty has a place today as much as it ever has. Why?
The death penalty is at its core a punishment that reflects the value of human life. Sound contradictory? Only if you do not highly value human life. People are created in the image of God, and God has established that killing one of these who are in his image is a crime punishable by death. One who kills another person is thus subjected to the highest punishment men can face.
What about the life of the one who committed the crime? In this case, Scott Peterson is guilty of killing his wife and unborn son. One of the arguments against his execution is that killing a third person does nothing to make the situation right. Part of the fallacy of such an argument is to what degree it is to be taken. Should Peterson then be allowed to remain free, since incarcerating a man is so detrimental to his life anyway?
What about people who are mistakenly sent to death row? Part of today's argument points to the people who have been dismissed from death row because of new trials involving new evidence. Certainly the system has to work for anyone to be justly sentenced to any amount of time in prison or to the death penalty. Whether or not the death penalty is just has nothing to do, though, with people who are unjustly sentenced.
Personally, the struggle over the death penalty is not an easy one. Chuck Colson has had a strong influence on my personal view of death row inmates and their spiritual condition. However, even Colson has changed his official position on the death penalty.
Disturbing is the fact that there were crowds outside the courthouse who cheered at the sentencing of Peterson. There is certainly nothing to rejoice about when a man is sentenced to death. Even in supporting the death penalty, there should be a weighty sobriety involved in the matter.
As one who has been on a jury for a murder trial, the sentencing of the people involved is a tough matter to deal with. In my personal experience, my jury convicted a 19-yr old of 2nd degree murder and 4 convictions of assault. He was sentenced by the judge to 49 years in prison. While our decision was the correct one, I am still sobered by the thought that this young man is to spend what will probably amount to over half his life in prison.
To an even greater degree, the Scott Peterson jury (and any jury that must make the death penalty decision) did not bring the sentence with any celebration. Rather, in their interviews they appeared very burdened by the crime and the punishment that they had to deal with.
There are problems on both sides of the arguments. Many who are arguing for Peteron's death point to the drastic nature of his crimes. But no matter how brutal his crime, Peterson killed another person. Now matter how significant or insignificant the person was in our society and/or in Peterson's life, his action would merit death. Even if he had killed an unknown homeless person, the sentence should be the same (given that the criteria for 1st degree murder were met.)
On the other side, the problems with many arguments against Peteron's execution are merely emotional pleas. They fall short of being consistent in arguing that he should not be executed (though all agree that he should at least have life in prison.)
In the end, I support the death penalty although I cannot imagine being a juror or a judge in the sentencing. Additionally, no matter how strongly I support the death penalty, I do not think I could be the person to actually administer the execution.