The state of Georgia killed another one of its citizens last Tuesday.
His name was Brandon Astor Jones. The 72-year-old Jones was killed because in 1979 he killed Roger Tackett, a Cobb County convenience store manager.
According to the state, what Jones did to Tackett was murder; what it did to Jones was a legal execution.
So one killing begat another killing, the latter state-sanctioned.
That makes no sense ethically or morally. The only place it would seem to make sense is legally. But even there the legality of state-sanctioned killings — or “executions” as they are euphemistically called — is rather fuzzy.
O.C.G.A. 16-5-1, the state statute defining murder and felony murder, reads in part: “A person commits the offense of murder when he unlawfully and with malice aforethought, either express or implied, causes the death of another human being.”
It took the state 36 years to kill Jones, which seems to involve a great deal of preparation and premeditation.
While the state gets to define what is “lawful” and “unlawful,” the difference between the two when it comes to killing another human being seems to be a rather fine line.
There is no question Jones deserved to be punished for his crime. The question is whether taking his life because he took another person’s life was morally and ethically the right thing to do.
I once was an avid supporter of the “kill them all, let God sort them out” school of criminal justice. But as I have grown older and a bit wiser, and have seen the workings of the criminal justice system up close, it is quite obvious that it is neither efficient nor effective, particularly as it pertains to the death penalty.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Jones was the 61st person since 1976 to die at the hands of Georgia officials.
While that may seem a substantial number, it ranks only sixth on the national list of executions over the last 40 years, behind Texas (533), Oklahoma (112), Virginia (111), Florida (92) and Missouri (86).
Supporters of the death penalty claim it is a deterrent to those contemplating murder. But repeated studies have shown that this is simply not true.
According to Hugo Adam Bedau, a professor of philosophy at Tufts University, “Most capital crimes are committed during moments of great emotional stress or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, when logical thinking has been suspended. In such cases, violence is inflicted by persons heedless of the consequences to themselves as well as others.”
That is an explanation, not an excuse for the crimes.
Proponents of the death penalty in search of religious justification usually trot out Old Testament citations from Exodus 21:23-25: “But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise,” conveniently ignoring the fact that Jesus countermanded that in Luke in the New Testament.
Proponents also say that some crimes are so heinous that they deserve the ultimate penalty: death. In fact, there are crimes that are so heinous that those who commit them deserve to be removed from society forever. Think Jeffrey Dahmer, Timothy McVeigh and John Wayne Gacy.
While some would argue that utilization of the death penalty certainly deters those convicted of murder of ever being able to murder again, others argue that permanently removing them from society through a life-without-parole sentence does the same thing.
In some ways, death is easier; serving extended prison time is not. Just ask anyone who has spent time behind bars.
Yet there are cases in which those convicted of murder actually become useful members of prison society and, by extension, society as a whole.
Once such case involves Kelly Gissendaner of Gwinnett County. Gissendaner was convicted of orchestrating her husband’s murder in 1997. Convicted and sentenced to death, she underwent a religious conversion in prison and began ministering to other women who also were incarcerated. She was credited with preventing several suicides among female inmates.
Despite pleas from Pope Francis and Norman S. Fletcher, the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia that she be granted clemency and be allowed to continue her prison ministry, the Star Chamber that is the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles refused.
Gissendaner was executed by lethal injection last September, the first woman killed by the state in 70 years.
Lethal injection is the current method of execution in 33 states, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. But the term “humane execution” is an oxymoron if ever there was one.
Lethal injection is nothing more than euthanasia; it is not the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” of which the Bible speaks. It is simply our way of trying to convince ourselves that when the government decides to kill someone, it does so in a manner that elevates us above those societies and cultures in which the guilty (and sometimes the innocent) were crucified, drawn and quartered, stoned, decapitated, burned at the stake or fed to the lions.
We congratulate ourselves for being a humane society because instead of actually killing people we just put them to sleep forever.
How is death by lethal injection any more humane than what the Islamic State does to its victims by burning them alive or tossing them off rooftops or cutting off their heads in front of a camera so the world can see?
One of the unanswerable questions about the death penalty is what does society gain from it other than the short-lived satisfaction of revenge and/or retribution?
An execution certainly does not restore the victim or victims and their families to what they were before the crime was committed. And society certainly learns nothing about why these individuals committed crimes in the first place.
We would be better served if those convicted of murder and other heinous crimes be studied to determine what sort of physiological, psychological or sociological flaws caused them to do what they did and try to put measures into place to keep others from committing similar crimes.
But to do that, we would need to stop warehousing in our prisons large numbers of people for nonviolent crimes and instead focus on those violent criminals or those prone to violence.
Even though the death penalty is considered legal justification for killing someone, just because something is legal, doesn’t mean it is morally or ethically right.
The death penalty does not kill violent crime.
All it does is kill another person.
Ron Martz is a Marine Corps veteran (1965-68), journalist and former educator. He lives in Northeast Georgia.