There once was a time when I thought, more because it was what I heard in my community than by my own reasoning, an eye for an eye was the rule of law that should be followed when deciding if a murderer should be put to death. Strangely enough, I applied this almost nowhere else in my life. In most other areas, I would apply the philosophy of turning the other cheek. However, when it came to the death sentence, I espoused things like, “wouldn’t it be cheaper to just take them out behind the courthouse and shoot them?” After climbing out of the bubble of my childhood and evaluating this situation based on my own moral compass, I have fortunately come to realize that this is simply absurd.
My reasoning is simple enough. The state is fallible and cannot be trusted to determine who should or should not be put to death. The various rulings on the death sentence across the nation indicate there is no consensus among governments as to how, why or to whom the death sentence should be applied. Beyond any reasoning though, I would like to take a look at this last moments and consider what it must be like.
The story that caught my eye most recently was that of Miguel Paredes who was executed October 28, 2014 here in Texas. The lethal injection was administered at 6:32 p.m. and 22 minutes later, he was pronounced dead. He spent twenty-two minutes strapped to a table with poison coursing through his veins killing him slowly as his family members and those of his victims watched.
Paredes was convicted of murder over a drug deal gone wrong back in 2001. He was sentenced to death and spent the next thirteen years in prison waiting on his turn for the needle. In the chronicle of his last days, he seems at peace. He sleeps more than anything, but in between he reads, writes, listens to music, visits with family members and ministers, and prays. In his last statement, he takes responsibility for his actions, asks forgiveness from nearly everyone and declares his love for all of them as well. He even smiled for a picture during one of his last visits from family. That is the last picture they will ever have of him.
While none of his behavior seems atypical of a death row inmate, since this is a story we hear regularly in Texas, I have to wonder what it must be like for his guards. Some of those men have doubtless been there during all or most of his sentence. What was it like seeing to a man who might as well be dead? What was it like knowing that no matter how reformed he was, no matter how much he changed, nothing would change the fact that this man would suffer the same fate as his victims, arguably worse? Did he smile at them the way he smiled in the picture for his family? Did they ever find themselves in conversation with him, as though he were an ordinary person? I put myself in their shoes and feel like I would have found it hard to steel myself as I watched this man truly repent for his crimes despite knowing there was no hope of redemption. I find myself equating it to the idea that if you were damned to hell with no chance at heaven, would you still repent and try to live your life better? Maybe you would; he did. He was damned to hell and still asked forgiveness and tried to find peace.
On the other hand, his executioner has likely taken numerous lives. How could a person live with that? Can you really convince yourself you’re doling out justice by not just taking them out of society, but taking them out of this world? I have to think that person either suffers immensely from what they’re doing, or is no less twisted than the person whose life they’re taking.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that no matter what he was convicted of, Paredes was a person, just like the executioner, just like his guards, and just like you and me. That being said, taking his life was as much murder as it was when he took the lives of his victims. We have a mechanism by which violent people can be removed from society thereby protecting the innocent. The added step of murdering them is no less than barbaric.
~~Anastasia Wilford, NOLW Texas Chair