WRITING WRONGS: Society’s revenge: Lethal injection

September 30, 2010

by Ashley Dison

This year, 38 people in the U.S. have been put to death by our criminal justice system. Since 2006, 222 have died this way. But only one was a woman. Forty-year-old Teresa Lewis of Virginia was executed by lethal injection Sept. 23 after being sentenced to death in 2002 for the premeditated murders of her husband Julian and his son Charles.

The two men who shot the victims were sentenced to life in prison. One committed suicide. The other will live the rest of his life in prison, a presumably harsher and more painful punishment than being injected with poison. Fifteen states no longer practice the death penalty. Perhaps they have seen that justice is better served through the confinement of convicted killers.

In fact, 88 percent of criminologists surveyed in 2009 believe the death penalty has not deterred crime in America, according to www.deathpenaltyinfo.org.
Or maybe the 15 states without the death penalty believe it a moral travesty, although in 2006, 65 percent of polled Americans said it was a proper form of punishment, according to the same website. What disturbs me is not Lewis’ gender or mental capacity, but the overall longing for revenge displayed, and the belief that killing those who have killed is justifiable.

Several months ago, I visited Angola Prison, Louisiana’s State Penitentiary with a group of journalism students. We were told by the guide not to look at the inmates on death row as we paraded down its hallway. I disobeyed. What I saw were human beings.

They were indeed convicted of heinous crimes, and I recognized Derrick Todd Lee, convicted in 2004 of the rape and murder of two of the several women he was suspected to have killed.
As my eyes met his, I wondered if his death will truly justify the deaths of his victims, or if Lee were forced to spend the rest of his life confined to Angola’s walls, would his crimes be greater punished? Finally, I thought about our moral duties. The Bible says God will avenge the wicked. Our justice system enforces consequences for criminal acts, but is it really our duty to kill?

Can our justice system be so infallible that innocent people are always recognized?
According to Amnesty International USA, more than 130 people have been exonerated from death row since 1973. Cameron

Todd Willingham, convicted of the 1991 deaths of his children in a house fire, refused a plea bargain for life in prison, vowing he was innocent.
He was sentenced to death. Months after he died, strong evidence arose that Willingham did not murder his babies; the fire was accidental. Lewis may have been guilty of her crime.

Maybe the majority of Americans think her death was vindicated. But are those in favor of her death really interested in justice or blind revenge? There is a difference. I will return to Angola soon, and I am quite certain I will weep for justice and morality, just as I wept before.

Ashley Dison is a senior journalism major from Spearsville who serves as news editor for The Tech Talk. E-mail comments to aad025@latech.edu.