The Memphis Commercial Appeal reported yesterday that the death sentence of James Christopher Riels was overturned by the Tennessee State Supreme Court. The Supreme Court found reversible error in Judge Chris Craft’s ruling which allowed prosecutors to cross examine Riels after he made a statement of remorse, violating his right to avoid self-incrimination. The ruling means Riels will receive a new sentencing hearing and could receive a sentence of life, life without parole, or death.
Riels has admitted to committing the horrendous murders while high on crack cocaine and vodka, becoming angry when the victims would not give him money. The story is a tragic one, and one for which Riels will most certainly receive a life sentence, at the least. However, regardless of the nature of the crime and the obvious disregard for life demonstrated in the act, killing Riels will not bring back the victims but will only further diminish the respect for life which we as a society must uphold, even in the face of great violence.
For those of us engaged in the struggle to end the death penalty, we know that the majority of those on death row, did in fact, commit these awful crimes. However, as a person of faith, I refuse to allow my reaction to violence be dictated by the violent. Instead, I choose my response to be dictated by a way which “does not overcome evil with evil but overcomes evil with good”–not an easy way to be sure, but the only way which allows for the possibility of healing and redemption.
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