Innocence on the Altar

A letter to the editor was posted recently in response to the blog entry entitled “Channel 2 Clues into the Truth.” The letter’s author, Gene Russell, outlines his reasons for supporting the death penalty. His concluding paragraph reads as follows:

For those who worry about killing an innocent person, please know that we lose the lives of innocent people regularly. Ask test pilots, policeman, fireman, and soldiers, all of whose lives are far, far more valuable than those of murderers.

This statement is so problematic that responding gives me pause. Certainly, innocent people die tragically all the time, including when they are wrongfully executed. The difference is that they are killed, not in the line of duty for which they valiantly volunteered, but instead by their own government and our tax dollars. Such a situation is appalling, and I am disturbed that anyone could attempt to justify it. If the innocent person was a family member of Mr. Russell’s, strapped down to a gurney, would his feelings be the same?

Furthermore, Mr. Russell’s statement that the lives of pilots, policeman, fireman, and soldiers are far more valuable than those of murderers undermines his entire argument. We are not talking about murderers but innocent people. Also, human beings should be wary of getting into the business of deciding whose life is valuable, regardless of what someone has done. Such is God’s job, not ours.

I dare say that Joyce House would disagree with Mr. Russell’s sentiment. Joyce is the mother of Paul House, a man who continues to sit on Tennessee’s death row for a crime of which the U.S. Supreme Court has said no reasonable juror would have ever convicted him given the new evidence in the case, including DNA evidence.

TCASK had hoped that the Governor would pardon Paul House and send him home for Christmas. Though Paul is still in prison, we continue to believe that Governor Bredesen will ultimately do the right and just thing, not only for Paul but for the citizens of Tennessee, and pardon Paul House. The Governor is preparing for his inauguration this weekend after being elected by an overwhelming majority of the state. Tennesseans believe the Governor to be fair and committed to the best interests of the people of Tennessee. No one’s interests are served with Paul House on death row. The Governor has a terrific opportunity to demonstrate the leadership of which he is surely capable by righting this egregious wrong and pardoning Paul House because it is the just thing to do. Innocent people should not be sacrificed to protect a broken system–never.

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