A Reflection

Today as we wait to hear from the Tennessee Supreme Court concerning their decision to grant the state’s motion on vacating E.J. Harbison’s death sentence, I am relieved that we are, most likely, not facing another execution early tomorrow morning. At the same time though, I am also filled with a sense of sadness and longing.

Lately, I have found myself wanting to know more about Edith Russell, the elderly woman who E.J. Harbison is convicted of killing. I think about Mrs. Russell that January day in 1983 having gone to the grocery store as usual and headed home to put the groceries away. Maybe she was thinking about what she would cook for supper that evening for her husband Frank. Maybe she was thinking about what a brand new year would have in store. Maybe she was listening to the radio and singing along.

When she went into the rental apartment behind her home, she had no reason to suspect anything. And then, her ordinary day turned to terror. She was confronted with intruders, hit on the head at least twice with a marble vase–crushing her head– and left there to die. I wonder about her husband, her children and grandchildren and how they have suffered. I lost my grandmother in a traffic accident and know how hard that loss was on me. I can’t imagine if she had been murdered.

It breaks my heart to imagine Edith’s last moments. It breaks my heart to think of her husband coming home to find her body. What senseless loss…over a TV and a few antiques.

The violence that we do to one another, whatever the reason, confounds me. There is enough sorrow in our world–illness, natural disaster, and accidents–without humanity increasing the suffering with acts of violence.

I know that there are people who read this blog who cannot conceive of why I am against the death penalty after murders as tragic as Edith Russell’s. Someone once wrote to me and said, “you make me sick that you defend these murderers.”

But, I don’t defend murderers, I honor life by opposing violence. I honor life by opposing the awful violence done to Mrs. Russell, and I pray for her family in their healing that certainly will take a lifetime. But at the same time, I honor life by opposing the violence our state plans to do to E.J. Harbison as well. I honor life by opposing the violence done to E.J. Harbison as a small child when he was beaten and burned, when he was hungry and afraid.

I heard a report on T.V. this morning saying that violent crime is on the rise again. The report attributed the rise mostly to guns in the hands of juveniles and lack of enough police officers. Again, I wonder why we don’t use all the money we are spending on the death penalty to address some of these deeper issues in order to keep murders from happening in the first place. Killing a person who is already in prison for life won’t save anybody, using those resources to work on prevention and policing might.

So, though I am so grateful that Tennessee will not be executing E.J. Harbison this week, I mourn for the Russell family and for us as a people. When will we let go of our belief that violence can save us? How many will die before we do?

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