Capital Punishment

by Tom Wacaster

On May 13, 1981, at approximately 9:30 p.m., Bobby Grant Lambert was walking out of a Safeway supermarket in Houston, Texas. An assailant approached Lambert and put his hand into Lambert’s rear pocket. When Lambert resisted, the assailant pulled out a pistol and held it to Lambert’s head. Lambert dropped his groceries and the assailant shot him in the chest. As the assailant fled, Lambert stumbled back into the grocery store, where he died. The robber got away with the change from a $100 bill, although police later found $6000 in $100 bills on the victim’s body.  Graham was arrested, convicted and sentenced to be executed.  Hollywood elites took interest in Graham’s case, and along with various “rights” advocates, every attempt was made to stop the execution of Graham.  Consequently it gook almost 20 years before Graham would be executed by lethal injection.  

On the evening of July 19, 1976, Gary Gilmore robbed and murdered Max Jensen, a Sinclair gas station employee at 168 East and 800 North in Orem, Utah. The next evening, he robbed and murdered Bennie Bushnell, a motel manager at City Center Inn at 150 West and 300 South in Provo. He murdered these people even though they complied with his demands. As he disposed of the .22 caliber pistol used in both killings, he accidentally shot himself in the hand, leaving a trail of blood from the gun all the way to the service garage where he had left his truck to be repaired shortly before the murder of Bushnell. Michael Simpson witnessed Gilmore hiding the gun in the bushes, seeing the blood and hearing on a police scanner of the shooting at the nearby motel, wrote down Gilmore's license number and called the police. Gilmore was charged with the murders of Bushnell and Jensen, although the latter case never went to trial, apparently because there were no eyewitnesses.  Gilmore was tried and convicted, and executed on January 17, 1977 at 8:07 a.m. by firing squad at Utah State Prison in Draper, Utah. 

Karla Faye Tucker, after having spent the weekend of May 12, 1983 doing drugs with her boyfriend Danny Garret, burglarized the home of Jerry Dean, and in the process played a part in the gruesome murder of Dean.  Both Tucker and Garret were tried and sentenced to death in September of that year.  The interesting thing about Tucker’s imprisonment was her conversion to “Christianity” and her subsequent marriage to her prison minister.  She was executed on February 3, 1998.  She was the first woman to be executed in Texas since the Civil War. 

The list of “notable” and “not-so-notable” executions could go on, enough to fill dozens, if not hundreds of bulletin pages this size.  Every time an execution takes place those opposed to the punishment lift their voices in horror suggesting that “capital punishment does not work.”   Of course it would depend upon the motive behind capital punishment as to whether or not it “works.”   Capital punishment advocates suggest that it is a deterrent, and that the very existence of capital punishment has served as a successful element in reducing crime.  It has long been acknowledged that the absence or uncertainty of punishment is an encouragement to do evil.  The wise man Solomon tells us that "because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil" (Ecclesiastes 8:11).  Those who oppose capital punishment argue that it does not serve as a deterrent. Among the most outspoken are those on death row who scream at the “unfair” and “cruel” judicial system for the situation in which they now find themselves. To this I would make three observations: First, convicted criminals would not be in favor of capital punishment for obvious reasons.  Second, the proof of a death penalty deterrent will be found in the many who actually refrained from such violence due to the fear of death.  Finally, the death penalty has lost much of its designed force due to the failure of, or capricious manner in its application and administration.  Those who oppose capital punishment will often pick up on a case of wrongful conviction to which the death penalty was the attached punishment, and will plead that it is unjust because it takes the life of an innocent person.  Of course there are those who plead “cruel and unusual punishment.”   The one element that so many fail to realize (or choose to forget) is that capital punishment is just that  -  “punishment.”  It is the penalty one pays for taking the life of another.  For Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher correctly pointed out, “People who go out prepared to take the lives of other people forfeit their own right to live. I believe that the death penalty should be used only very rarely, but I believe that no-one should go out certain that no matter how cruel, how vicious, how hideous their murder, they themselves will not suffer the death penalty.”  Whether or not it serves as a successful deterrent is not the issue when it comes to determining the right and wrong of the practice.  Even if it could be proven that it has no effect in deterring crime, it should still be administered as punishment to those who take the life of another!

Capital punishment was first authorized by God in the days of Noah in Genesis 9:5-6: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: For in the image of God made he man.”  In Exodus 21:12 it is stated, “He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death.”   If one responds that these are Old Testament passages and thus not applicable in this situation we would point out that the sacredness of life and capital punishment are clearly taught in the New Testament as well.  “Thou shalt not kill” is found five times in the New Testament (Matt. 5:21, 27; Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20; Rom. 13:9; James 2:11).  By using the familiar commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” in New Testament application it is obvious that some sort of punishment is to be meted out to those who take the life of another.  What is that punishment?  Paul tells us something about the authority of government in these matters in Romans 13:4:   “For he is the minister of god to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”  The sword was an instrument of death.  If one is going to argue Biblically as to the divine authority for capital punishment he must give careful and serious consideration to these words by Paul.

I’ll close with this astute quote from Theodore Roosevelt:  As regards capital cases, the trouble is that emotional men and women always see only the individual whose fate is up at the moment, and neither his victim nor the many millions of unknown individuals who would in the long run be harmed by what they ask.”